TAMPA — Throughout the first half Friday night, Armwood was playing with its back against the end zone.
Poor field position meant the Hawks were consistently playing with a short field. That was not exactly the scenario the defense wanted. After all, the Hawks were facing a prolific Gaither offense that had been averaging more than 30 points per game.
Once again, Armwood showed zero tolerance for its foe. When the Hawks needed a stop, they got it, whether it was EJ Perry flying from the outside for another sack or Desmond Watson and Clyde Pinder Jr. clogging up the middle or Aamaris. Brown and the rest of the secondary closing in on receivers. Armwood took away the pass. It stuffed the run.
More importantly, the Hawks did not allow their opponent to score — again.
By beating the Cowboys 14-0, Armwood finishes the second half of the season without giving up a point. Five straight games. Five straight shutouts.
“Our defense has been lights out,” coach Evan Davis said.
Friday’s performance might have been the unit’s most impressive yet.
Gaither (9-1) was on the verge of completing its first undefeated season in school history. The Cowboys’ perfect start was due in large part to its potent passing game. Quarterback Tony Bartalo was among the state’s leaders in passing yards and touchdowns. He put up big numbers by distributing the ball to a deep and talented receiving corps.
There were ample opportunities for Gaither to end Armwood’s shutout streak. Nearly every drive started in Hawks’ territory the first half. One drive signified the struggles and missed chances.
The Cowboys had the ball at Armwood’s 12-yard line. Twice, they tried a field goal that ended with penalties. So Gaither brought the offense back out, only to have the drive end with a sack — and no points.
Bartalo was sacked six times, including three by Pinder. The Hawks (9-1) also forced four turnovers and held the Cowboys to 58 yards of offense.
The defense even gave Armwood the lead.
In the second quarter, Perry sacked Bartalo, forced a fumble and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.
That put the Hawks ahead 7-0.
“I was just out there doing my job,” Perry said. “I go and get the quarterback.”
In the third quarter, Armwood added to its lead when quarterback Cam’Ron Ransom ran 14 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
The win only solidified the Hawks’ spot at the top of their region in Class 7A. Armwood’s RPI ranking should give them homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
“This is a solid win against a Gaither team that is likely going to end up in the state semifinals,” Davis said.