December 10, 2011

Friday roundup: Florida semifinals are fantastic

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to and follow him on Twitter.

The Florida state finals always are some of the top games in the nation.

But the Florida semifinals can be the toughest.

The depth of talented teams in the state can be diluted in the early rounds of the state's eight classifications. But by the semifinals, some of the nation's best are battling it out for a chance to go to Orlando.

No. 6 Miramar, No. 11 Miami Central, No. 13 Miami Norland, No. 16 Armwood, No. 34 Manatee, No. 68 Plant and No. 90 First Coast all reach the finals of the state's four top classes.

But it wasn't easy for any of them.

Here's a look:

No. 6 Miramar 14, Columbus 6

Which is the top team in Florida? Miramar perhaps moved one game closer to that distinction when it advanced to the 8A title game with a 14-6 victory over Columbus.

Quarterback Cameron Hudge led the way with a near-perfect performance. The senior was 22-for-25 for 244 yards and two second-half touchdowns.

The defense did its part, too, holding down Columbus' attack. When Columbus finally scored, Miramar blocked the extra point.

Miramar (13-0) will take on Tampa (Fla.) Plant in the title game.

  • RivalsHigh take: The Patriots have pushed all the way to a state final game appearance. The team has been strong on both sides of the ball all season and standing tall against a run-heavy Columbus squad was a nice test. The offense was effective but could not cash in more points against a solid Columbus defense. It is likely to see a similar game from Plant next week.

    For more, check out this report in the Miami Herald.

    No. 11 Miami Central 17, Mainland 7

    In the end, a sophomore led them.

    Miami (Fla.) Central, will get a shot at a second straight Florida 6A title and a potential Top 10 spot in the RivalsHigh 100 after sophomore running back Joseph Yearby ran for 160 yards and two big touchdowns in a semifinal victory.

    With the game tied at 7 in the fourth quarter, Yearby had his signature moment, going 77 yards - breaking tackles and reversing course along the way - for the go-ahead score.

    The Rockets (13-0) will face Seffner (Fla.) Armwood in the final.

  • RivalsHigh take: Central did its part against a very strong Mainland team. The Rockets have battled through a tough season with a lot of close calls to reach the state title game. This team may prove to be the best in the state with its performance in Orlando. It can not be repeated enough - the coaching at Central has improved dramatically over the last five seasons.

    For more, check out this report in the Miami Herald.

    No. 13 Miami Norland 35, Palmetto 27

    Miami Norland took a bus roughly 200 miles for its 5A semifinal matchup with Palmetto. Apparently the team showed up a bit later.

    Norland fell behind 20-0 before roaring back behind star running back Randy Johnson.

    Johnson ran for 375 yards and three touchdowns to lead Norland into the state final. But this wasn't a one-man show.

    The defense may have been late to the game, but it stood up when needed, stopping Palmetto on the 1-yard line on the game's final play.

    Norland (13-0) will meet Crawfordville (Fla.) Wakulla.

  • RivalsHigh take: Norland was caught in a formula that has plagued teams all season: A long bus ride off of an emotional win the previous week produced a sluggish start. The Vikings are talented enough to fight back and get the win and advance to the state title game. Duke Johnson has been as good as any player in the country during this playoff run.

    For more, check out this report in the Miami Herald.

    No. 16 Armwood, 46, Bertram Trail. 38

    Seffner (Fla.) Armwood (14-0) has lived by its defense and star running back Matt Jones all season.

    But on a night when the defense couldn't slow Bertram Trail and Jones couldn't get back on the field after an ankle injury, it turned to senior running back Wade Edwards.

    Edwards ran for 248 yards and three second-half touchdowns to send Armwood into the Florida 6A final against Miami Central.

    His biggest run came at the end. With Armwood protecting a 40-31 lead late in the game, Edwards powered his way to an 87-yard score to put the game away.

  • RivalsHigh take: Armwood has been on a survive-and-advance tour throughout the playoffs. It has won close games in different ways each week and this one was another to add to the list. The Hawks have had trouble at times stopping the pass and Bartram Trail challenged the defense all evening.

    For more, check out this report in the Tampa Tribune.

    No. 34 Manatee 19, No. 60 Dwyer 14

    To think, this was just a semifinal.

    Brandenton (Fla.) Manatee got a late touchdown to take the lead - then a late stop to hold on - and advanced to the Florida 7A final.

    The game may have turned on an injury. On the second to last play, Dwyer star QB Faton Bauta was injured, leaving Dwyer to go to a backup on its fourth-down pass. Manatee's defense was up to the challenge.

    Cord Sandberg was the offensive star for Manatee. His 21-yard rushing TD gave Manatee its 19-14 lead with 2:56 to go.

  • RivalsHigh take: The Dwyer team had the fourth down pass completed but it was dropped and the game ended. It has to be a sick feeling for any player in that situation. This game went as expected with the defenses putting the clamps on the other while the quarterbacks used their legs to make the plays. Manatee has fought its way to a state title in a way that many would not have predicted.

    For more, check out this report in the Bradenton Herald.

    No. 68 Plant 26, Fletcher 7

    Survive and advance. Over and over again.

    It's just one of the secrets at Tampa (Fla.) Plant, which advanced to its fourth straight state final - and fifth in six seasons - with its victory over Fletcher.

    Plant doesn't have the star power it has had in the past, but it does have unheralded heroes all over the field. Kicker Grant Van Aman was one against Fletcher as he kicked four field goals to give his school a 12-0 lead.

    The defense then took over, limiting Fletcher while putting up a score of its own on Antonio Crawford's 59-yard return of an interception.

    Plant (13-1) will meet Miramar in the state final.

  • RivalsHigh take: Plant fans have to be spoiled with the success it has experienced since Coach Wiener and his staff have come over to the school. It has been an unprecedented run of success for what used to be a much easier out. This year's squad does not have the talent that the last six have had but has found a way to be a better team.

    For more, check out this report in the Tampa Tribune.

    No. 90 First Coast 24, Lakeland 14

    Locked in a defensive struggle in the second half and clinging to a three-point lead, First Coast faced a Lakeland team that had dominated the third quarter and had the ball at the Buccaneer 22.

    Then Reggie Northrup stepped up.

    Northrup pursued a scrambling Raheeme Dumas, flushing him out of the pocket. This time, however, the Buccaneers got to Dumas and forced a fumble. Northrup scooped and scored with a 74-yard fumble return that put the game away for First Coast.

    The effort lifts First Coast into its first state final. It will take on Manatee in the 7A title game.

  • RivalsHigh take: First Coast has been a solid but scary team most all season. If the team could put together one special game, it could beat any team in the country and with one game left in the season, it will need to singularly point that focus to Manatee. Lakeland has been eliminated at this point each of the last few seasons and has had a hard time maintaining the elite level it ascended to when the Pouncey twins were on campus.

    For more, check out this report on

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