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Thursday, Dec 14, 2017
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Measure of Armwood success: 2017 defense vs. 2011 defense

SEFFNER — In an era defined by offense, Armwood serves as a throwback.

The Hawks take more glee in denying yards and touchdowns than generating them.

Their championship identity has been forged through defense.

For every "hut!" barked out by a quarterback, there is a bruising hit that accompanies it.

This physical style has helped Armwood reach the state title game eight times — and win three championships (on the field) — in the past 14 seasons.

On Friday, the Hawks will be playing for another title.

Once again, the defense has the spotlight. This year’s version has turned heads and summoned comparisons with the school’s past units.

College coaches can attest to the talent, especially up front. Clearwater Central Catholic coach Chris Harvey said multiple Division I-A assistants told him Armwood’s defensive line is the best they have ever seen in high school.

That group is led by Malcolm Lamar, an Oregon commit, and Fitzroy Gardner, who leads the team in sacks with 16.

To get an idea of just how much depth the line has, consider that the Hawks demolished undefeated St. Augustine and its massive offensive line in a 30-6 victory in last week’s state semifinals despite not having Lamar and playing Gardner on a limited basis because of injuries.

The line is not the only spot where the Hawks are stellar.

The linebackers are just as impressive. James Miller, a two-year starter, holds the school’s career record for tackles for loss with 61. His stats this season: 143 tackles, 41 for loss, 10 sacks, nine forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, five blocked punts, one blocked field goal.

Those numbers are the result of hits that rattle bones and live forever on Hudl and YouTube.

Facts and figures are nice, but are they enough to rank this defense as the best ever at the school?

"That remains to be seen," said former Armwood coach Sean Callahan, a defensive guru who stepped down before the season after leading the program to those previous title game appearances. "We’re pretty well known for defense, and we’ve had some pretty good ones around here."

For Callahan, the 2011 unit that won the school’s last title on the field ranks as the greatest ever, at least for now. That defense, led by linebacker Eric Striker (Oklahoma), recorded six shutouts and allowed just 52 points in the regular season.

In the state championship game that year, Armwood picked off the first two passes and returned them for touchdowns. The Hawks also recovered a fumble that set up another field goal to build a commanding 17-0 lead, giving them enough of a cushion to withstand a furious rally in a 40-31 victory over Miami Central.

Jesuit coach Matt Thompson, a former defensive coordinator at the school, agrees that was a dominant unit. But he said the best defense might have been the one from 2010.

That season, Armwood posted four shutouts and allowed just 112 points all year. In the title game, the Hawks held Tallahassee Lincoln to a state record 4 yards in the first half and allowed just 98 for the game.

But Armwood lost 17-14.

Callahan believes with a state title, the current Hawks defense will vault to the top among the elite units in school history.

"This group is just as good, if not better, than any one we’ve had here," Callahan said. "The only thing they’re missing is a state title. And they certainly have the pieces in place to get that done."

De-fense! De-fense!

Armwood is known for defense. Two units for the school stand out — the 2011 group that won a state title (it was later vacated) and this year’s. Here is a comparison.

2011

Record: 15-0

Points allowed: 166 (52 in regular season, 114 in playoffs)

Shutouts: Six

Sacks: 42

Turnovers: 36 (19 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries)

Top players: LB Eric Striker (95 tackles, nine sacks), DL Aaron Covington (92 tackles 11 sacks), DB Leon McQuay (59 tackles, three interceptions), DB Jarvis McCall (five forced fumbles, four interceptions)

2017

Record: 14-0

Points allowed: 77 (54 regular season, 23 playoffs)

Shutouts: Four

Sacks: 61

Turnovers: 30 (13 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries)

Top players: LB James Miller (143 tackles, 10 sacks, nine forced fumbles); DL Fitzroy Gardner (90 tackles, 16 sacks), LB Ricardo Watson (75 tackles, eight sacks), DL Malcolm Lamar (48 tackles, five sacks)

Class 6A state football final

Who: Miami Northwestern (12-2) vs. Armwood (14-0)

When/where: 8 p.m. Friday; Camping World Stadium, Orlando

Admission: $12 (general admission) and $17 if purchased in advance; $15 (general) and $20 at the gate. Parking is $10.

 
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