Wiregrass Ranch has done some impressive things the past three seasons. The Bulls went a combined 26-10 and made three straight playoff appearances, the longest postseason run in school history.
But they could not beat Plant.
Eliminate that pesky opponent, and Wiregrass Ranch may have won an elusive district title instead of advancing to the playoffs as a runnerup or wildcard from 2016-18.
That is just what happened in December when the Florida High School Athletic Association released its new districts and classifications for football.
The Panthers moved up to 8A. The Bulls remained in 7A.
The changes meant Wiregrass Ranch no longer had to face its nemesis. Still, there was not much celebrating.
The Bulls ended up trading one powerhouse for another. Joining Wiregrass Ranch in the newly formed 7A-8 is two-time defending 6A finalist Armwood.
To make matters worse, the Bulls lost two of their top playmakers, quarterback Hunter Helton and receiver/defensive back Noah Biglow, both of whom transferred to the Hawks.
“That’s the way the cookie crumbles,” Bulls coach Mark Kantor said. “You can’t fight City Hall. You’ve got to play with what you’re dealt. If you want to be a good football team, and continue to get better and develop, you have to play those type of teams.”
Helton is not playing quarterback full time with Armwood. He has lined up as a receiver, played some defense and occasionally taken snaps under center. The versatile role is similar to the one he had last year with the Bulls.
The arrival of Biglow and Helton adds to the Hawks’ already impressive collection of talent. Armwood has 17 players with college scholarships, including 13 at the Division I-A level.
The new district includes Tampa Bay Tech, which beat the Hawks in last year’s regular-season opener, and always-tough East Bay. Of the four teams in 7A-9, only the Titans and Indians were in the same district last year.
“We’re just going to line up and play who’s in front of us,” Armwood coach Evan Davis said. “It’s one of those ‘control what you can control’ things. We want to get better and make sure we’re ready for Tech, East Bay and Wiregrass. But we’ll get to those when we get there.”
Before Davis can think about his district foes, he has to get through a tough early-season stretch that includes Plant, North Gwinnett (Ga.), Bloomingdale and Chamberlain, teams that were either nationally ranked, made the playoffs or had a winning record a year ago.
That was by design, not to just be tested but to also pick up valuable points in the FHSAA’s playoff system.
The postseason is practically a given. After all, the Hawks have made 17 straight playoff appearances, including claiming six consecutive district titles.
Armwood is also focused farther down the road with a potential matchup against defending 7A state champion Lakeland looming in the second or third round of the playoffs.
“Obviously, they’re always in the back of our minds,” Davis said of the Dreadnaughts. “I’d imagine, we’re probably in theirs, too. But there’s a lot of road to travel before we get to those kind of games.”
Including the Hawks’ Sept. 27 matchup against … Wiregrass Ranch.
High school football, Week 1
All games Friday night.
Clearwater Central Catholic at Berkeley Prep, 7
Carrollwood Day at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7
Central at Umatilla, 7
Cambridge Christian at Winter Garden Foundation Academy, 7
Melbourne Central Catholic at Calvary Christian, 7
Weeki Wachee at South Lake, 7
Zephyrhills Christian at Lake Placid, 7
Bishop McLaughlin at Jacksonville Christ’s Church, 7
Fivay at Lecanto, 7
Lakeland Tenoroc at Hudson, 7
Seven Rivers Christian at Bayshore Christian, 7
Tampa Catholic at Naples Palmetto Ridge, 7
Admiral Farragut at St. Stephen’s, 7
Gibbs at Boca Ciega, 7
Bradenton Christian at Indian Rocks Christian, 7
Shorecrest at Northside Christian, 7
Palm Bay Heritage at Clearwater, 7
East Lake at Nature Coast, 7:30
Plant at Armwood, 7:30
Sunlake at Springstead, 7:30
Pasco at Land O’ Lakes, 7:30
Zephyrhills at Wiregrass Ranch, 7:30
Chamberlain at Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30
Gaither at Jefferson, 7:30
Robinson at Hillsborough, 7:30
Plant City at Jesuit, 7:30
St. Petersburg at Lakewood, 7:30
Northeast at Tarpon Springs, 7:30
Pinellas Park at Palmetto, 7:30
Lake Gibson at Hernando, 7:30
Anclote at Mitchell, 7:30
Cypress Creek at Wesley Chapel, 7:30
Osceola at Gulf, 7:30
River Ridge Crystal River, 7:30
Middleton at Alonso, 7:30
Blake at Riverview, 7:30
Newsome at Bloomingdale, 7:30
Wharton at Brandon, 7:30
Durant at King, 7:30
East Bay at Lennard, 7:30
Freedom at Steinbrenner, 7:30
Strawberry Crest at Leto, 7:30
Orlando Christian Prep at Seffner Christian, 7:30
Sickles at Spoto, 7:30
Immokalee at Clearwater Academy, 7:30
Palm Harbor U. at Dixie Hollins, 7:30
Largo at Braden River, 7:30
Dunedin at Keswick Christian, 7:30
Friday’s Plant-Armwood game will be streamed at theidentitytb.com or download The Identity Tampa Bay’s app.