SEFFNER — There is more at stake in Saturday’s Class 6A final between Armwood High and Miami Central than a state title. There is also the underlying battle for supremacy as Florida’s top football county.
For the 14th time in the past 13 years, Hillsborough County will have a team playing for a state championship.
Armwood is making its sixth state title appearance since 2003. Plant, which lost to Apopka in last week’s state semifinals, has won four state titles since 2006. Other teams to have made the state finals include Jefferson, which won a title in 2010, Chamberlain, Wharton and Tampa Catholic.
“We’ve done a much better job in this county in the last 10 to 12 years and I think that’s just a reflection — because Armwood won a championship in 2003 and I think it was 35 years before that (when a county team won). And now that a number of people have seen that Armwood can do it, and we don’t really have a whole lot of nice things here, and the thought is that if Armwood can do it, we can do it,” Armwood coach Sean Callahan said.
Miami Dade County, meanwhile, has produced seven state champions since 2006. Miami Booker T. Washington is the No. 1-ranked team in the country and after winning the 4A title last week, could be crowned national champion. Miami Central isn’t too far behind with a No. 3 national ranking.
Miami Central is making its fourth straight state title appearance and is the defending Class 6A champion.
“It means a lot for Dade County football because for so long, they thought we just threw a ball out there and let the kids run around and play,” said Miami Central coach Roland Smith, who won a state title as head coach at Miami Northwestern. “That shows we’re doing a good job down here in Dade County in coaching and developing young men.”
Trenches could be deciding factor
One intriguing aspect of the 6A championship game involves Miami Central’s offensive line versus Armwood’s defensive line.
Armwood’s defensive line features Rivals five-star recruit Byron Cowart (6-foot-4, 255 pounds), who the recruiting service named as the No. 1-ranked defensive end for the Class of 2015 and the No. 4 overall recruit. The line also has standouts in senior Hyriam Frederick (6-0, 245), junior Jeremy Ware (6-2, 183) and junior Devonte Myles (6-0, 206).
“Our defensive line is the strength of our team,” Callahan said. “(Central) is extremely big and we’re going to have to be very physical with them. We’re a good-looking group up front, defensively, and we’re going to try to have to change things up a little bit to confuse them in their protection.”
Miami Central’s front line features four Division I commits, led by University of Miami-bound Trevor Darling (6-4, 330 pounds). The line also includes South Florida commit Michael Smith (6-3, 315), Florida Atlantic commit Reginald Bain (6-4, 267), Tulane commit Raul Diaz (6-2, 277) and Joshua Addison (6-4, 280), who is uncommitted but has several programs recruiting him.
“We always say going into a game that we have not only the best front line in the state but in the nation,” Smith said. “We thrive on that and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Bailey questionable for Saturday’s game
Armwood KR/WR Talvin Bailey might not show up in the statistics in a huge way, but he has scored on several huge plays this season. And when he is on the field, the defense must make adjustments.
But in last Friday’s 6A state semifinal against Bartram Trail, Bailey didn’t show up in the statistics or on the field. He was on the sideline nursing a sprained arch in his foot.
On Monday and Tuesday, he ran through a few routes and light sprints. Callahan labeled Bailey as questionable for Saturday’s 6A final against Miami Central.
“It has a lot to do with the pain,” Callahan said. “The doctors have said he can play on it, but it will be painful. He’s pretty tough, but we won’t really know until the game.”
Bailey, a senior, ranks third on the team with 23 receptions for 477 yards and three touchdowns, including one for 86 yards. In a key 28-9 Class 6A-District 8 victory against Jefferson, Bailey caught a 45-yard touchdown pass and returned a kickoff 95 yards for another touchdown.
Noah’s learning curve
Armwood junior QB Noah Johnson played in only six games and completed only two passes for 21 yards in 2012, a far cry from this year’s numbers — 119 completions, 204 attempts, 1,980 yards, 18 touchdowns with eight interceptions, and 126 carries for 809 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“He’s come a long, long way from the beginning of this season to this point,” Callahan said. “We have total confidence in him heading into (Saturday’s game).”
Callahan said Johnson has found a way to get it done behind a relatively young offensive line.
“A lot of times he’s made something happen while running (from defenders),” Callahan said. “The way he’s developed is one of the big reasons of why we (made it to the state final).”