Tampa Plant vs. Seffner Armwood, a rivalry? That's a fantasy, declared Armwood linebacker Petey Smith. It's made up, contrived by folks hoping for a blockbuster game.
Smith sounded brash, but he was laying the facts out there as he saw them. If somebody is offended, well, the facts are the facts.
"We beat Plant twice last year by big scores, 32-7 and 36-7," Smith said. "People say it's this big rivalry between us and Plant. It's not a rivalry. Plant has beaten us, I think, twice since our schools started playing football. That's it. We're not even in the same district."
The two Class 4A Florida schools meet Friday night at Dad's Stadium in Tampa in a nationally televised game. Rivalry or not, it is going to be an intriguing matchup of opposites: Armwood's ferocious defense against Plant's passing game led by all-state quarterback Aaron Murray, a Georgia commitment.
The Panthers will spread the field with receivers, usually dual sets, with four receivers working to get open for Murray. His receivers will sit down in holes, take short passes and try to turn them into long gains, and Murray will try and stay alive long enough in the pocket to make the right reads and right throws.
"It's all about putting pressure on Aaron Murray," Smith said. "That's what you have to do. We did that last year."
Plant is all about the pass and Smith does not expect the Panthers to run the ball. Their offense revolves around the spread and letting Murray pick apart a defense.
"When you got a quarterback like him, why would you run the ball?" Smith said. "If they run it, that's fine because that means he is not throwing it. They are pass, pass, pass. They will throw it 50 times. They have Aaron Murray; they don't have a standout running back."
Plant won a national seven-on-seven championship in Beaverton, Ore., this summer, showing off the Panthers' finesse. But Armwood muscled Plant into submission last season behind a relentless running game and a strong pass rush. "They would bring a big fullback into help block, and we knew he wasn't a receiving threat, so we didn't worry about him," Smith said.
The key player on defense for Armwood could be end Ryne Giddins (6-4, 245), who gets upfield quickly and makes plays. If Giddins is double-teamed, the Hawks can set loose nose guard Alton Bailey - another Division I-A prospect - or newcomer Theodore Jackson, a defensive lineman.
Murray ran for 932 yards and threw for 4,013 yards and 51 touchdowns as a junior. Plant was 11-2 last season, with its losses to Armwood, including a playoff game.
It will be hard for Murray to find a safe spot on the field Friday night, Tampa Wharton coach David Mitchell said.
"I don't know if Plant's front can protect well enough," said Mitchell, whose team lost to Plant 42-7 last week. "Plant has a big-time receiver, maybe he can break one. They are going to have to roll Murray out, move him around, make Armwood guess, nickel-and-dime them and hope to break one. That is a really fast defensive line for Armwood."
Murray might not have to be the only difference maker for the Panthers if junior wide receiver Allen Sampson is 100 percent. Sampson, who can line up in the slot and create havoc in the middle of the defense, was held out of the season-opener last week against Wharton.
Plant also may need some help from Armwood turnovers, but Smith does not see his team making mistakes on a national stage.
"I told the young guys that if they play well in this game, college coaches all over the country are going to see them," Smith said. "We had a guy return a kickoff for a touchdown two years ago when we were on ESPN and the next day college coaches were calling our coach. He got a scholarship. Our guys will be ready to play."
Game of the Week: No. 2 Armwood Hawks vs No. 29 Plant Panthers
KEY TO THE GAME: Armwood Hawks
Pressure. Who wants to let an all-state quarterback sit back, find a rhythm, and attack the defense? Not Armwood. Defensive end Ryne Giddins is as good as they get in Florida. If Plant wants to run the ball for a change of pace, Alton Bailey, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound junior nose guard, can plug the middle.
KEY TO THE GAME: Plant Panthers
Get open, often. Allen Sampson, a speedy receiver, can be elusive if Aaron Murray can get him the ball in space. The other key is protection. Murray was knocked down in last year's meetings. He needs to be upright to do his thing.
Note: Murray makes the difference
Last season Armwood beat Plant by a combined score of 68-14 and Aaron Murray had his two worst days of the season. For Plant to be successful the offensive line will need to step up and keep Murray off of his back. The more times he is hit the worse the day will get for Plant. Conversely, if Armwood does not get to the gunslinger it could make for a long day in the secondary.