Friday night’s 6A state semifinal wasn’t the outcome the Tate Aggies dreamed about … in fact, they probably didn’t envision it in their worst nightmares.
The Seffner Armwood Hawks excelled in all phases of the game, producing a 53-19 win and earning their third-straight trip to the state finals.
However, the first series was not indicative of what the outcome would be.
The Aggies won the coin toss, deferred to the second half and Evan Legassey sent the kickoff out of the end zone.
Three players later, Monty Brown intercepted a Darrian McNeal pass and returned it 24 yards for a pick-six touchdown and a quick Aggies lead.
But Armwood’s stud QB wouldn’t let one bad play throw him off his game.
“Coach always tells me to have a short memory,” said McNeal, who has offers to Marshall and Boston College as a junior. “So I forgot about that play (interception) and went back out on our next drive trying to make plays.”
On the next drive, Armwood marched its way down the field before Erin Collins capped it off with a 7-yard rushing score.
In the second quarter, the Hawks put up four quick touchdowns to build a 36-7 lead by the half.
“Armwood is No. 1 in the state for a reason,” Tate coach Jay Lindsey said. “They got a great football team with very good players. We made some mistakes that you just can’t make against a top-caliber team like that. It was tough to overcome. Hats off to Armwood.”
The Hawks put together two backbreaking scores with 1:42 left in the half, and even dialed up a flawlessly executed trick play.
McNeal found Warren Thompson on a screen pass, then the receiver looked downfield and found a wide-open Collins for a 65-yard score.
“It’s fun being a part of this offense (at Armwood),” McNeal said. “We’ve got so many weapons and our O-line is just so powerful. We have a chance to score on every play with our offense.”
After a quick three-and-out for Tate, Armwood’s Trevor Laurent displayed a highlight reel punt return — the same distance as Collins’ touchdown.
For Tate, all three touchdowns were scored by seniors — to cap off their high school careers.
After Brown’s pick-six, Dee Thompson found the end zone with six minutes to play in the third, and Reggie Payne hauled in a 55-yard pass for a score with 1:10 to play in regulation.
With the Aggies accumulating 19 points, they were just two points shy of producing the most scoring that any team had (Gainesville, 20) on Armwood this season.
“They (Tate) scored on our defense … twice,” McNeal said. “They did good. I had seen them on film before (Friday night). We respect each team, but we looked at Tate like we do every game: we gotta win.”
McNeal and the Hawks will face Miami Central in the 6A state finals in Orlando at 1 p.m. (Orlando time) Saturday. The Hawks have lost to the Rockets in each of the last two seasons.
Lindsey pointed out that Tate’s loss was not due to lack of effort, and it also certainly wasn’t due to lack of fan support.
The Aggies faithful stuffed the visitor section at Armwood, after doing the same at Niceville, Pine Forest and Navarre in the prior three weeks of the postseason.
•Who: Armwood vs. Miami Central
•What: Class 6A state championship game
•When: 12:07 p.m. Saturday
•Where: Citrus Bowl Stadium