Same old story, well, almost

Once upon a time Miami Washington lost three straight state semis to Armwood. Can it break the spell tonight against the Panthers?

By BY SCOTT PURKS Times Staff Writer
Published December 1, 2006

TAMPA - At least one Miami Washington coach was lying face down on the field, legs kicking, arms splayed, pulling up clumps of turf.

The ref's hands were in the air: Touchdown, 0:08 on the clock, Armwood players screaming and hugging across the field. Armwood quarterback Justin Hickman had just completed a 6-yard touchdown to Lance Tillison. Final score in the Class 4A state semifinal: Armwood 37, Washington 34.

How could it happen ... again?!

The year before, in the same game, Armwood had pulled off another relative miracle, completing an 80-yard, double-pass play when wideout Mat Brevi lobbed a ball to running back Demetrius McCray, who ran for the touchdown. Then, trailing 35-34, Armwood converted a two-point conversion.

The year before, Armwood thumped Washington 44-14, again, in a state semifinal.

And now, here is Miami Washington ... again. Yes, for the fourth consecutive year, Miami Washington is in a state semifinal against ... Plant.

"We would have liked to play Armwood because of all those years we played them before," coach Tim Harris said. "But shoot, when you look at how bad Plant defeated Armwood (38-20), you kind of get a little worried.

"Because you think if a team can beat Armwood that bad, then that sounds like a team that can really get it done."

All that aside, Plant (13-0) has a couple of glaring advantages: The Panthers are at home on a roughed-up field they're used to, and, Washington (12-1) has to travel four hours and trot into jam-packed Dad's Stadium with 8,000 screaming fans.

Things are a bit different, however, from last year, including the fact Washington graduated more than half its starters, including quarterback Alwan Lee, who racked up nearly 850 all-purpose yards against the Hawks the past two years.

Still, they return with plenty of their signature speed.

At quarterback is junior Sancho McDonald, who may not run as well Lee, but might have a little stronger arm, and still runs pretty darned well. In the regular season, McDonald completed 101-of-173 for 1,622 yards and 17 touchdowns, with six interceptions.

His favorite target is Thearon Collier, who had 34 receptions for 791 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season.

Like Plant, Washington runs from the spread, though perhaps without as many set plays. Defensively, Washington lines up in a 4-4 and doesn't mind firing off its share of blitzes.

More than anything, though, Harris said his team wants to get past this game, which has all but ripped their hearts out the past two years.

"It was painful, but hey, we've come back to play in this game again," Harris said. "...We've worked hard on staying focused and cutting down on the turnovers and stupid penalties.

"Now, we can't wait to play."