SEFFNER — There were so many key moments and players in Tampa Bay Tech’s 27-22 region semifinal victory over Armwood on Friday night that it’s near impossible to pick the biggest key.
“There were 50,000 things that you could point to, but ultimately, the bottom line is that we found a way to get it done,” Tampa Bay Tech Jayson Roberts said. “It was crazy the entire night. You don’t know where to start.”
How about with the Titans’ defensive backs — including Rukeem Stroud, Javarius Lundy, Camren Campbell, Tyson Stroud and Se’an Sheffield — who relentlessly swarmed every Hawks running back and receiver and ended up intercepting four passes: Campbell had two picks and Rukeem Stroud and Sheffield each had a pick-six, Stroud for 38 yards and Sheffield for 40.
“We came in tonight with a chip on our shoulder after (losing 51-34 to Armwood during the regular season),” Campbell said. “We felt like we had something to prove. I’d say we proved it.”
So did the Tech defensive line and linebackers, who held Armwood running back Girard Pringle to 14 carries for 27 yards, less than a month after Pringle torched the Titans for more than 200 rushing yards.
“One of our big focuses was stopping (Pringle) and we worked and worked on making adjustments to make that happen,” Roberts said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am after how hard our defense worked to prepare.”
Another key player? How about quarterback Xzavier Jackson, who was pressured hard throughout the night but still completed 9 of 20 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns — all without the help of the Titans’ leading rusher, Rod Gainey Jr.
Gainey had gained 1,087 yards through 10 games but was benched Friday after getting thrown out of last week’s game for fighting. Gainey will also have to miss next Friday’s game against Orlando Jones while serving his two-game suspension.
“We will have to continue to have other guys step up,” Roberts said. “Just like they did tonight.”
The receivers who helped pick up some slack included Dallas Wilson (51-yard reception), Santonyo Isaac (23-yard touchdown reception) and Trevon Moore (57-yard touchdown catch).
After trading leads throughout the game, Tech (10-2) appeared to have sealed the deal when Sheffield returned his interception 40 yards for a touchdown with just over one minute to go for a 27-15 Titans advantage.
Armwood, however, wasn’t done. The Hawks (10-2) answered with a 55-yard touchdown pass on their first offensive play.
The Hawks then recovered the ensuing onside kick and ultimately had four shots at the end zone from the Tech 20.
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One pass went through the hands of an Armwood receiver in the end zone and the three other attempts were thwarted by the Tech defensive backs, the last pass swatted away as time expired.
“It was nerve-wracking at the end, that’s for sure,” Campbell said. “But we found a way. We did. We found a way.”