Tampa Bay-area high schools take home the Class 6A, Class 7A, and Class 8A football championships at Orlando's Citrus Bowl.
Three of Tampa Bay's most prominent high school football teams won state championships in Orlando's Citrus Bowl on Friday and Saturday, making a clean sweep of the state's top three public high school classes. Seffner Armwood defeated Miami Central 40-31 to win the Class 6A title, while Bradenton Manatee shut out Jacksonville First Coast 40-0 for the Class 7A crown, and Tampa Plant upset Miramar 31-20 for the Class 8A championship.
Armwood 40, Central 31
Armwood (ranked #4 in the country by USA Today and #9 by MaxPreps) completed an unbeaten season with their win over Central (#12 USA Today, #14 MaxPreps). The Hawks jumped out to a 16-0 lead, thanks to two interception returns for touchdowns by Jarvis McCall and Leon McQuay. But the Rockets pulled within 16-14 by the half. Dalvin Cook ran 63 yards for Central's first score, and they scored again just before halftime after Armwood muffed a punt snap and the Rockets recovered at the Hawks 4-yard line. Joseph Yearby scored on a seven-yard run to cut Armwood's lead to just two points.
The teams traded big plays throughout the second half. Central returned the opening kickoff into Armwood territory, but fumbled two plays later. The Hawks returned it to the Rockets 32, and on the next play Alvin Bailey threw a touchdown pass to Wade Edwards to make the score 23-14. Central got the score right back, though, when Cook ran the ensuing kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown. Later Bailey scored a touchdown as a receiver, hauling in a 19-yard strike from Javonte Sneed.
But Bailey's biggest play of the game was back under center in the fourth quarter. Central had cut the Hawks' lead to 30-24 with 8:04 to play, and were looking for a stop to give themselves a chance to take their first lead of the game. But on the very next play, Bailey lofted a deep pass for Matthew Jones, who made the catch and tightroped down the sideline for a back-breaking 80-yard touchdown to give Armwood a 37-24 advantage. Although Central would score again and get the ball back late in the game, they weren't able to mount a serious threat to win.
Bailey only completed six passes, but they went for 139 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 39 yards rushing. For Central, Yearby and Cole combined for 185 yards rushing and scored all four of the Rockets' touchdowns.
Armwood won its third state championship since 2003, but the offseason question may be how long that honor lasts while the Florida High School Athletics Association completes an investigation into some of the Hawks' eligibility.
Manatee 40, First Coast 0
The Hurricanes, rated #18 nationally by USA Today, blew away the previously unbeaten Buccaneers with a stifling defensive effort. First Coast managed just 108 total yards, and freshman DeAndre Johnson was sacked five times while throwing two costly interceptions in the end zone. They also had plenty of self-inflicted mistakes -- among others, three fumbles, a penalty that wiped out a missed Manatee field goal on the last play of the half (the Hurricanes made the second attempt), a punt that was blocked and recovered for a touchdown by Manatee, and a sequence where they had a 1st and 10 at the Manatee 11-yard line and ended up punting. First Coast set a dubious state championship record because of all the sacks and recovered fumbles, rushing for minus-71 yards.
Cord Sandberg led the Hurricanes with 180 yards passing and 78 yards rushing. He ran for one score and threw for another, to Anthony Lauro. Lauro also had a touchdown run to go with 58 rushing yards and 77 receiving yards. Leon Allen chipped in 73 yards on the ground and made six catches for 64 yards.
Manatee's championship is their fifth in school history, but the first since 1992. Coach Joe Kinnan has been there for all five titles.
Plant 31, Miramar 20
The Panthers, unranked in both the USA Today and MaxPreps polls, jumped out to a 17-point lead in the first half and then hung on to upset Miramar, ranked third in both national polls.
Plant has been well-known for their passing ability in recent years, but on Saturday night it was the running game and their defense that carried them to victory. Although the Patriots held James Few to only 47 passing yards, they gave up 254 on the ground to the Panthers, who focused heavily on the run. Wesley Bullock carried 26 times for 118 yards and a touchdown, with Few adding 57 rushing yards and another score.
The Panthers took the opening kickoff and marched 61 yards for the game's first score, by Bullock on a 21-yard run. Miramar tied the game at 7 on a D'Vontis Arnold run after Plant's Dereck Mann muffed a punt and Jermaine Grace recovered at the Plant 2-yard line. But on Miramar's next possession, Camren Hudge was sacked and lost a fumble, which the Panthers used to regain the lead on an 8-yard run by Few. They extended the lead to 24-7 before halftime on a Grant Van Aman field goal and a touchdown plunge by linebacker Mike Tate from a yard out. Plant's defense suffocated Miramar in the second quarter, holding them to 17 total yards.
Miramar made it a game with two quick touchdowns late in the third quarter. The Patriots drove 85 yards to cut Plant's lead to 24-14, finishing it with an outstanding 31-yard touchdown reception by Malcolm Lewis. Then Bullock fumbled and Miramar was back in business at the Plant 17. Following two false start penalties and an incompletion, Hudge threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Tanares Robinson, who may or may not have made an amazing catch with Tate hanging all over him at the goal line. Plant blocked the extra point, but Miramar's two touchdowns in 24 seconds had trimmed the Panthers' lead to 24-20.
In the fourth quarter, what could have been a crucial error turned into a clinching score for Plant. The Panthers drained nearly half of the final period with a long drive, but Antonio Crawford lost a fumble while driving for the goal line and Miramar recovered at their own 2-yard line. Three plays later, though, Plant's defense iced the game when Mitchell Wright sacked Hudge in the end zone, forcing another fumble that Tate Rogers dove on for a touchdown.
Plant finished the season at 14-1, with their only loss coming to Armwood. It was their fourth state championship, all coming since 2006.