TAMPA — It was the game nobody won, or lost, or even played in for that matter.
At least on paper.
In 2011, Armwood High defeated Miami Central 40-31 in the Class 6A football championship game in a matchup of two undefeated and nationally ranked opponents. After the state final, Armwood was ranked No. 3 in the nation by USA Today, while Central was No. 14.
During the 2011 season, however, Armwood was under investigation by the Florida High School Athletic Association for possible use of ineligible players.
In May 2012, the FHSAA ruled five instances in which parents of Armwood players falsified information to gain entry to the Seffner school.
The Hawks eventually were stripped of their 2011 state championship and their state runner-up crown from 2010, and they vacated 26 wins stemming to the middle of the 2010 season. The school also was fined $12,743.
Armwood was forced to return its state title trophy, but it wasn’t the only program penalized that season for an invalid transfer.
An investigation conducted at the Miami-Dade school district level found that Miami Central quarterback Austin Stock was ineligible to play in 2011 and the Rockets were forced to vacate the wins from that season.
Yet, as the same teams prepare to meet in Saturday’s Class 6A final, both head coaches count the game as a win and a loss.
“In our part of the world, we won,” Armwood coach Sean Callahan said.
Said first-year Miami Central coach Roland Smith: “It’s a redemption-type game.”
Callahan said only one member of this year’s Armwood team was a factor in the 2011 season. Callahan said that he and the program have moved on, and coincidently, have improved as a result.
Callahan said the 2012 season was one of his finest — and toughest — during his 30 years as Armwood’s head coach. In the aftermatch of the investigation, he guided the Hawks to a region championship and a 9-4 record.
“We’re so close now,” he said.
Central, meanwhile, rebounded from its vacated season to win the 6A state title and finished ranked 24th in the nation.
Smith said the 2011 loss to Armwood partially fueled the program’s 2012 title. A win Saturday would bring closure to some of Miami’s players, he said.
“When we got the call that we were going to be playing Armood this year, that got them refocused on, ‘Oh, we have a chance to play a team that we lost to in the state championship two years ago,’ ” he said.
“And a lot of the guys that were sophomores on that team remember the pain they felt from losing that game. They want to make sure this week they go out and prepare and do the things that they have to do so they don’t feel that pain again because they have goals. And I know Armwood has goals, but we have goals here at Miami Central to win state championships and national championships.”
The same can be said for Armwood, which will play in its sixth state title game since 2003.
“We’re proud of our past,” Callahan said. “We have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Record books aside, both coaches say what transpired on the field in 2011 still matters.
“We beat those guys,” Callahan said. “At no time was it back and forth.”