tampabay.com

Armwood-Plant a battle of the best

By JOEY KNIGHT
Published November 19, 2006



TAMPA - As if Friday night's Class 4A playoff showdown between Armwood and Plant won't generate enough buildup, sprinkle on this bit of hyperbole: It's bigger than the BCS.

In its best years, college football's computer-generated national title game can pit no better than No. 1 against No. 2. But in local prep circles, fate has done one better.

Friday night at Dads Stadium in South Tampa, county fans will see No. 1 against 1A.

Armwood-Plant. Plant-Armwood. The entrenched local juggernaut against the unbeaten upstart in a tussle for area supremacy and a berth in the 4A state semifinals.

Plant (12-0) will have home-field advantage. Armwood (11-1) will have a historical one.

And the winner will own the title of undisputed county kingpin.

"Armwood has been the big powerhouse around here year after year," Panthers receiver Derek Winter said. "They're the top dog, and we won't be until we knock them off."

An initial assessment of the matchup is tricky. The teams' offenses - Armwood's triple option against Plant's pro-style passing game - represent a glaring contrast in styles. A breakdown of common opponents, meantime, is deceiving.

They each have edged Jefferson (Armwood did it twice), topped Hillsborough by at least a touchdown and trounced Middleton. The lone common-foe discrepancy: Armwood lost to Winter Haven by a point in overtime in a turnover-marred effort in September. Plant clobbered the Blue Devils 46-6 in Friday's 4A region semifinals.

But in recent head-to-head encounters, the Hawks have won decisively, though Plant has closed the gap. Armwood annihilated the Panthers 49-0 in the 2004 regular season - Robert Weiner's first as Panthers coach.

In last season's playoffs, the Hawks prevailed, 24-6.

"They were devastated," Weiner said of his team following last season's loss. "I don't think any of my kids walked out of there feeling like it was a moral victory."

Since that game, Panthers quarterback Robert Marve has passed for 40 touchdowns and committed to play for Alabama next season. Armwood, meantime, has defeated all-time county passing leader Stephen Garcia twice.

Now, any gap in talent level seems irrelevant, especially at this stage.

This will be one - and 1A - for the ages.

"I think the last team to beat Plant was Armwood," Hawks coach Sean Callahan said moments after watching his team rally from a two-touchdown, fourth-quarter deficit for a 22-21 win Friday at Jefferson.

"We've played Robert Marve before and we've played a lot of great quarterbacks, so we'll be ready for 'em."

Playoffs:

Class 4A semifinal

Armwood 11-1 at Plant (12-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or jknight@sptimes.com.