ORLANDO - Unfinished Business.
The slogan was on hundreds of Armwood High T-shirts throughout the Citrus Bowl on Saturday afternoon.
The Hawks, carrying a year's worth of pent-up bitterness over last season's state-final loss, weren't about to fall short this time. It required roller-coaster emotions, huge offensive plays, a defense that forced four turnovers and a floating, drifting field-goal attempt that dropped through and clinched things in the final minute.
Following Armwood's highly entertaining, 40-31 victory against the Miami Central Rockets in the Class 6A state championship game, Hawks coach Sean Callahan said his program finally can exhale.
"There's so much to absorb today, but the bottom line is we got it done and I think we were destined to win this state championship," said a teary-eyed Callahan, whose Hawks (15-0) add a state football championship trophy to the Armwood squads of 2003 and 2004.
Not so fast? There's also an unfinished black cloud hovering over Armwood's program.
The Florida High School Athletics Association is investigating Armwood over the residency status of a transfer offensive lineman, Jack Lightsey, and that probe recently expanded to include other players. If the FHSAA finds ineligible players, Armwood would be required to forfeit its victories.
"We're not going to let anything happen without fighting for what belongs to Armwood," Callahan said. "I might have to be 16-0 instead of 15-0. If that's the case, so be it. I really believe we're a good program and we do things the right way. I feel good about it."
"No one can take anything away from us,'' said junior quarterback/receiver Alvin Bailey, who accounted for three touchdowns. "We beat everyone on the field. This is our time. We earned this."
On that point, there is no dispute.
The Rockets (13-1), last season's 6A state champions, would not go away.
Armwood wasn't home free until Nick Feely's 43-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining. Callahan debated the attempt. After all, it was Tallahassee Lincoln's block, scoop and score of an Armwood field-goal attempt that turned around last season's state final.
"It had to be a perfect snap, a perfect hold and a good kick … and it was," Feely said. "When I hit it, I looked up and said, ‘We're state champs!'"
Feely's kick was the final piece of a football mosaic that included every sort of touchdown play one could imagine.
The Hawks built a 16-0 first-quarter lead when Jarvis McCall (56 yards) and Leon McQuay (32 yards) grabbed interceptions to score on the first two pass attempts by Central's Austin Stock.
Over? Not quite. For Central, which erased a 17-point deficit in winning last season's title game, it was time to get started.
Behind the resolute play of sophomore running backs Joseph Yearby (touchdown runs of 7 and 5 yards) and Dalvin Cook (touchdowns on a 63-yard run and a 99-yard kickoff return), the Rockets came charging back.
Although Armwood never fell behind, it was under a constant threat. And it answered with big plays.
The ever-elusive Bailey, who alternated at quarterback with Darryl Richardson, produced a 32-yard touchdown when he rolled right, then threw back left to a wide-open Wade Edwards.
Later in the third quarter, it was Bailey pitching right to wideout Javonte Sneed, who stopped flat-footed, then threw back left to Bailey, who drifted out alone and caught a 19-yard score.
Then one of the clinching moments.
After Central had pulled within 30-24 with 8:04 remaining, many probably thought Armwood would look to move the chains and squeeze out a win. Instead, Bailey went deep to 6-foot-3, 225-pound running back Matt Jones, who got one-on-one with a safety down the right sideline, snagged a pass at midfield and sprinted in with an 80-yard score.
"I saw the ball in the air and I just said, ‘You got to catch it … you got to catch it,'" Jones said. "When I did, it was off to the races."
"What a beautiful sight, the big man running open like that," McCall said. "I loved the play call. We went for it!"
Even though it surrendered 31 points, the Armwood defense still came up clutch in the big moments, including Central's last-gasp hope, when senior linebacker Eric Striker (12 tackles, two sacks) trapped Stock for a 5-yard loss on fourth down deep in Rockets territory.
"We were miserable after last season's game and that feeling lasted a whole year," Striker said. "Every time I look at that silver medal, I get mad. Now I have a gold medal and I know what to think now.
"This time, we finished it off. Man, it's so sweet."
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