Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Lyle Flagg Field, Seffner
WHAT PLANT MUST DO TO WIN:
LET MURRAY SHINE: QB Aaron Murray is coming off an impressive debut against Wharton, and the Panthers should give him plenty of opportunities to make things happen. Murray doesn't lack confidence, and his team has faith in him. The Panthers must put the game in his hands if they're going to come out with a victory.
SEIZE MOMENTUM EARLY: Plant showed how effective this could be in last year's region final, with big plays taking the wind out of Armwood and causing a meltdown between Hawks players and coaches. This is magnified more considering the Panthers are outside of the friendly confines of Dad's Stadium.
PLAY LIKE NOTHING TO LOSE: This should be easy, as it's the role the Panthers played all last season on their way to a state title. Other than the Plant faithful, no one is giving the defending state champs much of a chance on the road at mighty Armwood. Don't be afraid to take some chances.
WHAT ARMWOOD MUST DO TO WIN:
TAKE CARE OF THE FOOTBALL: This has to be priority No. 1, especially after the heartache those six turnovers in last year's region final caused. Plant's ability to take advantage of the opposition's miscues is second to none.
POUND THE ROCK: The Hawks claim their strength is the running game behind an experienced offensive line. Now is the time to prove it. If the Hawks are smart, Eric Smith should get plenty of chances to run behind Matt Patchan and Co. In fact, Armwood shouldn't even think about putting the ball in the air until Plant's defense proves that's the only option.
KEEP THE PRESSURE ON: Armwood's defensive line must get in Panthers QB Aaron Murray's face early and often, and the Hawks defenders must do a good job of wrapping up Murray when they get their hands on him. Giving Murray any extra time to find Derek Winter, Cornelius Gallon or any other Plant receiver could be detrimental.
THE X-FACTOR: Armwood's homefield advantage. Venue can play a big factor, and the Hawks have been dominant at home in recent years. In fact, Armwood has not suffered an on-field home defeat since the 2002 state playoffs against Lake Gibson, a string of 26 consecutive wins counting regular-season and playoff games.
Height, weight: 6-foot-1, 240 pounds
Height, weight: 5-foot-10, 180 pounds
ABOUT SMITH: Arguably the top defensive player in the area, Smith was a machine last season for the Hawks, finishing among Hillsborough County leaders with a team-best 135 tackles. A first-team all-state selection at linebacker each of the past two seasons, Smith is known for delivering some crushing blows.
ABOUT JACKSON: Jackson is one of the area's top backs, and he was the best last year at taking advantage of every opportunity he got. As a junior, Jackson led the Panthers in rushing with 824 yards and nine touchdowns and compiled those numbers on just 82 carries.
HEAD TO HEAD
These two have a bit of history from last year's region final. The fleet-footed Jackson had one of the best games of his prep career with 141 rushing yards, including a 69-yard touchdown run. Smith delivered one of his trademark blows on a second-half kickoff coverage, one that separated Jackson's right shoulder. You can bet Smith's eyes will be fixated on Jackson the entire game, because the Hawks can't afford to allow the Panthers to run the football with Plant's passing game requiring so much attention. And, of course, Jackson will surely keep an eye on his close friend as well. 'That's always my motivation, to not let a hit like that happen again,' Jackson said with a smile. 'Hopefully, somebody will block him.'
HEAD TO HEAD