Armwood prevails with seconds to spare

Hawks rally from 14 down to edge Jefferson.

Published November 18, 2006

TAMPA - Armwood will not die.

Friday night at Jefferson, Armwood had been battered, run over, at times dominated, and in the fourth quarter thrown into a 14-point hole against one of the state's best defenses.

"But Armwood never stopped believing," Jefferson coach Mike Fenton said.

With 28 seconds remaining, after a furious series of dramatic runs and completions, Armwood quarterback Justin Hickman threw an 18-yard touchdown to Deondre Kyles to give Armwood a 22-21 victory in the Class 4A region semifinal, a fact Fenton said, "Makes me feel like my heart was taken out of me."

When Jefferson quarterback Stephen Garcia failed on three final pass attempts, he fell to the ground, and like many Jefferson players, he cried, his high school career finished. Yes, Garcia stands as the Tampa Bay area's all-time passing leader yards with 8,069 and touchdowns with 83, but unlike Armwood, Garcia is without a state title.

Armwood is in search of its third state crown in four years, which has included a few similar dramatic comebacks see last-second victories over Miami Booker T. Washington in each of the past two Class 4A semis.

"One of the things that you have to give us is that we know how to get over humps," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "We've had to come back before and we've done it. We know how to do it. To be honest (while the comeback was happening) I felt completely composed on the sideline."

The rally started after Jefferson, holding a 21-7 lead, stopped Armwood on downs on the Dragons 5-yard line with under 10 minutes remaining. Jefferson (9-3) then fumbled a snap through the end zone to give the Hawks a safety.

The Hawks (11-1) followed with a five-play, 55-yard drive, capped by a 2-yard rushing touchdown from Eric Smith.

Jefferson, largely on key completions and a fourth-and-1 push by Garcia on his 29-yard line, ran the clock down to two minutes, 23 seconds before giving possession to Armwood on its 15-yard line with no timeouts remaining.

Hawk quarterback Justin Hickman then made several completions , including a fourth and 5 from the 50-yard line with under a minute left.

"We knew they were going to throw slants and fades and we told our guys that (during a Jefferson timeout before Armwood's fourth-and-5 completion and on the winning touchdown pass over the middle)," Fenton said. "We knew exactly what they were going to do, but their guys made big plays. That's why (Armwood) is a champion. They do things like that."

Scott Purks can be reached at purks@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3353.