No. 2 Seffner (Fla.) Armwood and No. 31 Miami (Fla.) Central have spent most of the season battling to see which is the more dominant team in Class 6A on the way to a much anticipated match-up in a state final.
This past week, they spent time battling another issue: Eligibility.
Both schools were rocked by an eligibility question surrounding a top athlete (OL Jack Lightsey at Armwood; QB Austin Stock at Central). And while both have been cleared (for now) of any wrongdoing, the schools responded in different ways in the first round of the playoffs.
Off-the-field distractions can go one of two ways: They can galvanize a team, creating a singular focus, or they can cause a poor week of practice and lackadaisical performance.
Miami Central appeared to be galvanized. It could do no wrong from start to finish in a 71-0 triumph over Pembroke (Fla.) Pines Charter.
Armwood went a different way. It ran out to a 28-3 lead over a 5-5 Bradenton (Fla.) Lakewood Ranch team before yielding four straight touchdowns. In fact, it needed a late touchdown to even advance, pulling out a 35-31 win.
Armwood coach Sean Callahan spent the week saying the eligibility issue would not impact his team.
"Armwood football has done absolutely nothing wrong," he told TampaBay.com. "We have nothing to hide and will go out of our way to help the FHSAA secure all the facts."
Afterward, however, Callahan told the paper the incident - along with an off week - had impacted the team.
It was obvious.
Armwood had given up just 52 points on the season entering Friday night's game - and just 35 since a season-opening victory over No. 6 Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman.
The Hawks had been in a battle for the top spot in Florida much of the season before putting some separation between itself and Miramar (Fla.) High.
But on Friday night, that gap may have been more than closed, it could have flipped.
It was not the first time in recent memory, or even this season, that Armwood had jumped out to a big lead only to allow an opponent back into the game.
In its win against Gorman, the Hawks led 20-3 and held on to a 20-17 win.