Defensive Line A Strength For Chiefs
Outside of Armwood and Hillsborough, Chamberlain has arguably had the best defense in Hillsborough County. Four shutouts this season and the only team other than Armwood to give Plant a run for its money, Chamberlain's defense is a key reason why the Chiefs are in the Class 5A elite eight.
One unit in particular, the defensive line, has played exceptionally well.
Those linemen are junior Dontavious Pyron (6-foot-1, 270 pounds), Eric Hammond (6-3, 280), Louis Sinistera (6-1, 240) and Austin Black (6-3, 200). Together, they have amassed 244 tackles. Black leads the line with seven sacks, while Pyron has four and Sinistera has three.
"The difference is having them in your system for two years," Chamberlain defensive coordinator Ray Rairigh said. "Three of the four have been together for two years. They are strong and they play together."
The Chiefs (9-3) defensive line will be vital in stopping Kissimmee Osceola's go-to player, running back Bubba Brown, who Plant City coach Kevin Kelley got a chance to see up close in the first round of the playoffs.
Brown rushed for 159 yards and three scores in the Kowboys' victory against Plant City in the regional quarterfinal, including a 60-yard score with less than a minute left in the first half that ended any momentum the Raiders had after putting together a long scoring drive.
"I've seen a lot of scatbacks and power backs, but I haven't seen a lot of guys that blend both," Kelley said, "and that's what Bubba Brown is."
Brown has spearheaded the Kowboys' undefeated season, which includes a pair of victories against three-time defending Class 5A state champion Lakeland. Brown has rushed for 1,936 yards and 34 touchdowns this season, including 109 yards and three touchdowns in last week's playoff win against the Dreadnaughts.
BREIT LIGHT: The last time Plant and Armwood faced off, Panthers starting middle linebacker Chris Breit had an interesting vantage point - the sideline. It was a spot Breit thought he'd occupy the entire season because of a stress fracture in his lower back.
"It was the worst feeling in the world," Breit said. "Watching the team get ready and prepare and watching all the emotion run through the team, I didn't really feel that. From the sideline, I felt like I could stop anything. I said, 'Just give me some pads and I promise I'll stop a freight train.'"
Doctors eventually cleared Breit to play later in the season and he returned with a new-found appreciation for the game. He also joined an underappreciated defense that gets overshadowed by Plant's high-powered offense. The task tonight will be stopping Armwood starting tailback Eric Smith, a player who racked up 173 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Hawks' Week 1 victory against Plant.
"He's a tough runner and doesn't stop," Breit said. "But if we swarm, there's nothing you can do when you have 11 guys flying to the ball."
SEEING YELLOW: Odds are there will be quite a few yellow flags hitting the field during tonight's 4A regional final between Plant and Armwood. The teams' recent history suggests as much.
Counting their final two regular-season games and first two playoff games, Armwood has averaged 11 penalties for 102 yards per game, while Plant has been plagued even more so, averaging 13 penalties and 121 yards per game.
Armwood coach Sean Callahan attributes the flux of penalties to the Hawks' physical nature. Plant coach Robert Weiner echoed those sentiments.
"I think when teams play as aggressively as we do and aggressively as Armwood does, that happens," Weiner said.
Neither coach seemed too concerned about the rash of penalties. Weiner added so long as it stays the same for both teams, it likely won't be a disadvantage to either team.
"We don't like to talk about it so much that our kids play hesitant. We want to play free and we want to play loose," Weiner said. "We will never play mistake-free football in terms of penalties because I think if you are, then you're not playing as hard as you possibly can."
SEEKING REDEMPTION: Armwood players and coaches have done their best to put the team's Week 1 win against Plant in the past. However, the same can't be said for the Hawks' 4A regional final loss to the Panthers last season.
"To us, we've already forgot about the game in August, but we sure didn't forget about the game in November. We always tell our kids, we never forgot any games in November and December," Callahan said. "So right now we still believe we have to get back to them and that we owe them. Are we going to use it in a big talk? No. But our kids know that that was one of our toughest losses that we ever walked away from."
So tonight, the Hawks will look to finally redeem themselves from that crushing 38-20 playoff loss to the Panthers last season, and they'll go into the task with a complete team, something they didn't have in that 26-7 victory in Week 1.
Just hours before the Panthers-Hawks season-opening clash, Callahan suspended eight players for the game after the group was caught skipping a morning class a few days earlier. Among those suspended were starting quarterback Mywan Jackson, and starting cornerbacks Nick Greene and Justin Williams.
Jackson assured this week there would be no hiccups this time around to prevent anyone on the team from playing in the game, which will feature just the second time this season Armwood has fielded a complete team. The first occurrence was last week's 35-0 win against Hillsborough, the Hawks' most dominant effort of the season.
Adam Adkins, Nick Williams, Katherine Smith