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FIERCE FOURSOME

Each has a likely Division I-A recruit at quarterback. Each has a coach who has played for a state championship. Each has a squad capable of going deep in the playoffs. Want to know what else Armwood, Chamberlain, Plant and Tampa Catholic have in common? Each has an outstanding defense. In fact, one could argue they possess the four best units in the county. Judge for yourself.

Armwood (7-0)

Key stat: 18 total points allowed

Memorable effort: In a season-opening win, the Hawks held a high-powered Plant team to two points. In their next five games, the Panthers scored 49, 56, 64, 42 and 44 points.

Top performers: DL Ryne Giddins, DL Theodore Jackson, LB Petey Smith, DB Angelo Hadley

Unsung: LB Casey Callahan

3 Reasons for success

1. Talent: The Hawks have several future Division I-A players, notably Giddins, thought to be one of the country's best pass rushers.

2. Balance: From the line to the secondary, there isn't a noticeable weakness.

3. Fire: No area team goes harder from snap to snap.

Chamberlain (7-0)

Key stat: 43 tackles for loss

Memorable effort: The Chiefs forced five turnovers in a 48-21 win over Hillsborough in Week 3.

Top performers: LB Deandre Hall, DL Eric Hammond, DL Dontavious Pyron, DL James Wilder

Unsung: DB Dametrius Turner, DB Rico Valdez

3 Reasons for success

1. Speed: After you get past the line, the Chiefs aren't particularly big, but man can they move.

2. Cohesiveness: Chamberlain has great chemistry and it continues to get better.

3. Depth: Chiefs' regular defensive rotation includes 14 or 15 players. If they have a close game, that could make a difference.

Plant (5-1)

Key stats: 17 sacks

Memorable effort: In a 9-2 loss to Armwood to begin the season, the Panthers went toe-to-toe with the Hawks and surprised by holding their own up front.

Top performers: DB Hunter Baldwin, LB Beau Hume, DL Javon Mention, LB Mike Mirabella

Unsung: DL/LB Josh Varon

3 Reasons for success

1. Ball hawks: Rarely does a Plant player make a tackle by himself. This group swarms to the ball each and every player.

2. Scheme: Knowing that few teams in high school have great passing attacks, the Panthers put a lot of men in the box to cut off every possible running lane.

3. Instincts: Plant players usually end up where they're supposed to be.

Tampa Catholic (4-2)

Key stat: 10 points allowed per game.

Memorable effort: During a three-game stretch (games 3-5), the Crusaders allowed 10 total points.

Top performers: LB Colin Carter, DL Brandon Green, DB Ralph Grover, DB Jeremi Wilkes

Unsung: LB Brandon Mendoza

3 Reasons for success

1. High expectations: Not from outsiders, but inside the huddle. This group constantly challenges itself to improve.

2. Intelligence: The Crusaders run a complex scheme, but TC has smart players who have grasped it well.

3. Star-less: Because there is no single player who can take over a game, the Crusaders realize each athlete has to do his part. It's truly a team effort.

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