ORLANDO — After a weekend of blowouts at the FHSAA state finals, Seffner Armwood and Miami Central finally provided a little bit of intrigue for the 5,706 fans in attendance. It was a couple of late plays down the stretch – including an 80-yard touchdown reception by Armwood senior running back (and UF verbal commitment) Matt Jones – that would lead the Hawks (15-0) to their third championship in school history with a 40-31 win at the Citrus Bowl in the Class 6A final.
“When we need to make a play offensively, Matt Jones came through,” Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. “Those guys need to make those big catches. We didn’t come up with some of those [plays] in the first half.”
Early on, it didn’t look like Armwood would need any late-game heroics to get the win. Miami Central quarterback Austin Stock threw an interception on the first play of the game which Armwood senior defensive back Jarvis McCall returned 56 yards for a touchdown.
“I just baited the quarterback a little bit,” McCall said. “The way he threw it, I just jumped at the right time. I knew I was going to score, because there was nothing but grass in front of me.”
That wasn’t the only crucial mistake made by Stock, either. After Armwood extended their lead to 10-0 on a 27-yard field goal by Nick Feely, junior safety Leon McQuay III (also a top Florida recruiting target) picked off another errant pass by the Central signal-caller, and returned it 32 yards for a score. And just like that, with 3:51 to play in the first quarter, Armwood already held a 16-0 lead on their opponents from South Florida.
But the Rockets (13-1) wouldn’t go away. A 63-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Dalvin Cook finally got Central on the board. On the following possession by Armwood, an errant snap on a punt attempt allowed the Rockets to take possession at the Hawks’ four-yard line. Three plays later, fellow sophomore Joe Yearby bounced into the end zone from seven yards ou and suddenly it was a game again.
After taking a 16-14 lead to the break, Armwood jumped out quickly with a 32-yard touchdown pass from junior Alvin Bailey to running back Wade Edwards to give the Hawks a little bit of breathing room to start the second half.
“That was a trick play we just came up with this week,” said Bailey. Coincidentally (or maybe not), the Bailey-to-Edwards connection also worked for a game-winning touchdown against Gainesville in a regional final match-up at Armwood on Dec. 2.
It would be a fourth-quarter pass from Bailey to Jones that would really put Armwood in control of the contest. Bailey (7-of-13 passing, 139 yards, two touchdowns), who split time at quarterback with fellow junior Darryl Richardson, found Matt Jones (three receptions, 119 yards) wide open streaking down the middle of the field for an 80-yard score with 7:52 to play. For the first time since the middle of the second quarter, the Hawks had a two-score lead.
“We confused them with a little misdirection, and Matt got free,” Callahan said. “We had a great throw, and Matt caught it. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
A five-yard touchdown by Yearby (27 carries, 101 yards) with 5:01 to play would cut the Armwood lead to six, but the Rockets could draw no closer. A 43-yard field goal by Feely with under a minute to play provided the final difference, and not long after, the Hawks were engaging in a wild celebration on the sidelines.
The state championship victory provided a sense of accomplishment for the Seffner community, but there are still storm clouds hanging in the distance for the Hawks. An FHSAA investigation into the living situation of starting right guard Jack Lightsey has been ongoing since the beginning of the playoffs, and has served as a considerable distraction for a nationally-ranked program in recent weeks. While the results of the investigation (and a possible forfeiture of the state championship) for Armwood likely won’t be known until after the new year, the players have remained in support of one another and their coaches.
“It’s been tough,” Bailey said. “But being a family, and being so close to one another, it just makes everything easier.”
The Hawks will always have Saturday moving forward. The day on a beautiful afternoon in central Florida where the Hawks avenged a stunning defeat to Lincoln on the same field a year earlier by overcoming the same adversity they’ve faced all season long.
“We got it done,” Matt Jones said. “I felt it in my heart that we had to get this ring. It feels so good to celebrate.”
– Four assistants from UF – interim offensive coordinator Brian White, tight ends coach Derek Lewis, secondary coach Travaris Robinson and defensive line coach Bryant Young – were all spotted in attendance during the 6A state final.
– Seffner Armwood wide receiver Alvin Bailey continues to refer to Florida and LSU as “special” programs that are at the top of his list. Bailey added that USF just extended an offer and that he “thought” he had an offer from South Carolina as well.
For the season, Bailey finished with 872 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 109 carries. He added 24 receptions for 404 yards and three touchdowns and completed 49-of-89 passes for 975 yards and 12 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
– After the game, Florida running back commitment Matt Jones added that the departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis does not affect his pledge to the Gators.
“It definitely does not,” he said. “I’m focused on getting to Florida.”
Stay tuned, as Gator Country will have more from Jones, including a video interview following the state championship win for the Armwood Hawks.
Justin Wells hosts a weekly recruiting video chat with Andrew Spivey on Tuesday nights from 8:30-9:30 p.m. EST. You can view the show live on the Gator Country TV page. You can also e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org—or follow him on twitter @j_wellsGC.