SEFFNER — Soaked from head to toe in ice water, Armwood High football coach Sean Callahan stood at the 50-yard line at Lyle Flagg Field on Friday night, watching in awe as his boys celebrated a victory for the ages.
In one of the most remarkable and memorable games ever played in Hillsborough County, undefeated Armwood defeated St. Johns Bartram Trail, 35-28, in triple OT to move on to the Class 6A state title game.
The Hawks will attempt to capture the program's third state title when they face Miami Central, the No. 3 team in the nation, next week in Orlando.
“It's one of the best football games I've ever been a part of,” Callahan said.
After three hours of football had been played with players from both teams battling pain and exhaustion, Armwood would ultimately win on two plays.
In the third OT and facing third-and-goal from the 11, Armwood junior quarterback Noah Johnson scrambled in the pocket, looking for an open receiver. Feeling pressure from Bartram Trail defenders, Johnson saw a chance to run.
“(The field) just opened up,” he said. “Their linebacker moved over to Trevor Laurent and I knew it would be open.”
After an extra point by junior Sterling Hofrichter, the Hawks led 35-28, with Bartram Trail having another opportunity to tie or win the game. On third-and-goal, however, Bartram Trail quarterback PJ Blazejowski was sacked by Armwood's Byron Coward for a 7-yard loss. On fourth-and-goal from the 17, Blazejowski passed into the end zone but it fell incomplete.
Staring at his teammates across the field after the win, Johnson became overwhelmed with emotion. He thanked them. He thanked his coaches. A year ago at this time, he was a substitute on the sideline, hoping to get into the game.
“It's unbelievable, man,” said Johnson, who finished with 44 passing yards and two touchdowns on 6-for-18 attempts along with 70 rushing yards.
On the third-down sack, Cowart mustered enough strength to beat a double team to get to the quarterback.
“Don't give up,” said Cowart, who had numerous hurries on Blazejowski. “We didn't give up.”
The Hawks struck first in the first overtime when Johnson connected with Hunter Zilbar toward the corner of the end zone. Bartram Trail answered when Blazejowski found Angel Toyens in the back of the end zone.
The Bears had the first possession of the second overtime and Blazejowski scored on a 5-yard run to take a 28-21 lead, but running back Caylan Holloway scored on a 10-yard run to send the game into a third overtime.
Armwood tried to take the lead on a 52-yard field goal with 1:07 left in regulation, but it fell short. Bartram Trail ran out the clock to send the game into overtime.
“It didn't boil down to execution,” said Armwood junior linebacker Jordan Griffin, who scored on an interception return in the first quarter. “It boiled down to us wanting it more.”
Armwood lost two fumbles but Bartram Trail could not capitalize. Blazejowski finished with 191 passing yards and three touchdowns, and 31 rushing yards with a touchdown.
“The biggest thing about Armwood football is heart and the way we play with passion,” Callahan said. “It was a total gut effort.”
Bartram Trail 0 0 7 7 7 7 0 — 28
Armwood 14 0 0 0 7 7 7 — 35
A – Griffin 3 interception return (Hofrichter kick)
A – Laurent 12 pass from Johnson (Hofrichter kick)
B – Coleman 3 run (Gallitz kick)
B – Bentley 12 pass from Blazejowski (Gallitz kick)
A – Zilbar 10 pass from Johnson (Hofrichter kick)
B – Toyens 10 pass from Blazejowski (Gallitz kick)
B – Blazejowski 5 run (Gallitz kick)
A – Holloway 10 run (Hofrichter kick)
A – Johnson 11 run (Hofrichter kick)