SEFFNER — Whenever Plant and Armwood square off, the games are typically low-scoring affairs that often have close, dramatic endings.
Not this year.
The Hawks have so many stars on the roster, the hardest part, it seems, is finding playing time for all of them. All three quarterbacks are playmakers. The running backs are talented. Each receiver can make jaw-dropping catches. The defense is devastating.
With all those pluses on one side, it was obvious which team had the overwhelming advantage in Friday’s season-opening matchup.
The big plays started early and kept coming as Armwood cruised to a 38-3 win over the Panthers. The Hawks jumped out to 38-0 halftime lead and emptied the bench once a running clock was used in the second half. It was the most lopsided scores in the series since Armwood beat its South Tampa rival 65-0 in 2003 and 49-0 in ’04 en route to consecutive state titles.
“That was a good football team we just beat,” coach Evan Davis said. “Plant is going to make a run at a state championship because they are that well-coached.”
Davis was a member of Armwood’s first championship team 16 years ago. The third-year coach, who guided the team to two straight final appearances in Class 6A, certainly has a squad that can not only reach another championship game, but likely win the whole thing.
The Hawks were in state title form from the opening series Friday night. On the second play from scrimmage, Armwood defensive back Jalil Core, the Tampa Bay Times’ 2018 Hillsborough County Defensive Player of the Year, scooped up a fumble and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown.
The big plays continued as quarterback Cam’Ron Ransom stumbled momentarily before scrambling to his left and heaving the ball downfield. Agiye Hall, recently named the nation’s top receiver in the 2021 class by 247Sports, tipped the ball to himself, then outraced a defender on a 78-yard scoring pass.
Last year, Ransom and Hall both made names for themselves by hooking up for several big plays in Armwood’s nail-biting win over Plant.
Ransom kept finding the end zone Friday night. He escaped trouble, then carried a few defenders with him on a 5-yard touchdown that made it 21-0.
Backups made plays, too.
Running back James Smiley made several nice cuts before sprinting down the right sideline on a 35-yard scoring run.
Backup quarterback Hunter Helton got in during the second quarter and made several big runs to keep the drive alive on Smiley’s touchdown run.
After that, the rout was on.
Ransom hit Charles Montgomery on a 29-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter that made it 35-0. Just before the half, the Hawks hit a field goal to round out their scoring.
In the third quarter, the Panthers avoided a shutout by connecting on a field goal.
Counting the preseason, Armwood has beaten a defending region finalist (Jacksonville Lee) and a defending region semifinalist (Plant) by a combined 66-3.
Next week, the Hawks will get their biggest test yet. They travel to face North Gwinnett (Ga.), a defending state champion, in a game that could end up being televised on ESPN.
“We have to clean up a few things, especially the penalties,” Davis said. “But it’s a good start, especially when you can come away and beat Plant.”