State High School Championship Thursday

Two rural communities with recent football paths as different as night and day will be the first to venture into "The Swamp" for the purpose of being crowned a champion. Ft. Meade, a stalwart in Class 1A/2A since 1993, will be playing in its sixth state championship game in eleven years. Meanwhile, Blountstown recorded its first FHSAA playoff win in 27 years on November 12.

The teams last met in the 1973 FHSAA playoffs for the 2A state title. Coach Tom Freeman led his Tigers to a 40-28 victory over Coach Blaine Turner's Miners. Both of these programs have helped lift the spirit of communities hard hit by the September hurricanes. Ft. Meade, in rural Polk County, felt the brunt of all four storms suffering significant damage and the loss of life. The tiny panhandle community of Blountstown suffered deadly tornadoes which also caused tremendous damage.

1A Blountstown vs Ft. Meade
Thursday, December 9, 1p.m.
Blountstown Tigers (14-0) State Semi-finals: Defeated defending state champion Jacksonville Trinity Christian 36-20 in Jacksonville Tough opponents: Port St. Joe 27-10 (Sept 17), Hilliard 64-35 (Nov 19) Vernon 32-7 (Nov 26)

Offensive scoring:
Regular season: 437 points (43.7 ppg)
Playoffs: 197 points (49.3 ppg) Defense
Regular season: 36 (3.6 ppg)
Playoffs: 74 points (18.5 ppg)

Top ranked Blountstown (14-0) ran the table for the first time since the 70's. The Tigers strength is --- well, their strength. They captured the state Class 1A weightlifting crown and have struck a perfect balance between the weight room and the gridiron. The additional mass has energized the tiny panhandle community. Returning 21 starters from last year's team didn't hurt Coach Bobby Johns and his staff either.

Offensively, the Tigers Wing T amassed 263 rushing yards against Vernon High School (11-1) two weeks ago in the regional finals two weeks ago. Last Friday, junior running back Chance Attaway ran for 187 yards on just 25 carries and scored four touchdowns against the defending state champions. The 5-10, 185-pounder settled in behind a physical offensive line and burst threw the Conquerors defense as the Tigers chewed up huge chunks of real estate. Attaway ran for 227 yards against Hilliard in the regional semifinals. Coincidentally, Attaway's father, Guy was a two-way starter for the Tigers when they beat Ft. Meade for the 1973 title.

Defensively, Blountstown is stingy. The Tigers pitched six shutouts during the regular season and held fifth-ranked Vernon to a single touchdown in the regional finals. They have improved since the halfway point of the season, as the Tigers pitched four shutouts in the final five games. The one knock on Blountstown entering the playoffs was the schedule. While out of their control, the Tigers eight of the ten teams on the schedule had losing records. Blountstown has taken care of its' business throughout the playoffs though.

Ft. Meade Miners (11-2)

State Semi-finals: Defeated Glades Day 27-20 in 2OT at home

Tough opponents: loss to Wauchula Hardee 28-26 in season opener, win over Lakeland Evangel 21-7 (Oct 15), loss to Ft. Pierce Carroll 7-0 (Oct 22), win over Evangel Christian 7-3 (Nov. 26)

Offensive scoring:
Regular season: 258 points (28.6 ppg)
Playoffs: 114 points (28.5 ppg)

Regular season: 95 (10.5 ppg)
Playoffs: 38 points (9.5 ppg)

Strength of schedule wasn't a problem in Polk County. The area is ripe with quality football. The Miners went up in classification and lost a barn burner to 2A Wauchula Hardee County in the season opener. Hardee went undefeated, but the fourth ranked team was upset in the opening round. Ft. Meade also dropped another close one to Class 2B Ft. Pierce Carroll 7-0. The Miners wiped everybody else out.

Ft. Meade passed their final test on the road with a come from behind 27-20 double overtime victory over the Glades Day Gators last Friday night. Leading rusher Brian Whitehurst and quarterback Anthony Johnson key the Miners attack. Whitehurst ran for 95 yards last weekend, including a 5 yard touchdown for the winning score in overtime. Johnson passed for 85 yards, while running for 87. Trailing by a touchdown with only two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Johnson took the first play 43 yards to the Glades 27 yard line. After a pick-up of 12 yards on the next play, Johnson called his number and sprinted 15 yards for the game tying score.

The Miners defense gave up 134 yards to Glades tailback Bobby Shannon and will face a trio of talented Blountstown backs, including Chance Attaway. However, Ft. Meade has seemingly forces turnovers when they most need them. The Miners forced a Shannon fumble and turned it into a touchdown. In the overtime, Whitehurst picked off a pass destined for a Glades receiver in the end zone, sending Ft. Meade to Gainesville yet again.

Analysis: How will Blountstown react on the big stage against a Ft. Meade squad who call Gainesville their home away from home? Can the Miners win a title? The key for both teams is to keep the mental mistakes to a minimum and don't get caught up looking at the scoreboards. This should be a good one. Pick: Blountstown

4A Lake Gibson vs Armwood
Thursday, December 9, 7 p.m.

Lake Gibson (13-1)

State Semi-finals: Defeated Pensacola 30-29 on the road Tough opponents: win over Kathleen 21-17 (Sept 3), loss to #9 Class 4A Auburndale 23-14 (Oct 15), Springstead 43-32 (Nov 19), East Ridge 26-20 (Nov 26) Offensive scoring:
Regular season: 371 points (37.1 ppg)
Playoffs: 134 points (33.5 ppg) Defense
Regular season: 107 (10.7 ppg)
Playoffs: 76 points (19 ppg)

This is the rematch of a tremendous state championship game one year ago. Lake Gibson lost that game, 29-21, but both teams laid it all out there. The Braves were trailing Pensacola by an identical 29-21 score last weekend when Roger "Rabbit" Frazier took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for the touchdown. The Braves two-point conversion failed leaving them in a 29-27 hole. However, the Braves defense rose to the occasion, stuffing the Tigers with two tackles for loss, forcing them to punt. Quarterback Matt Grothe and running back Isaac Harris took the Braves into field goal range where Jacob Bloodworth hit the game winning 20-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining.

Grothe is the leader of the Lake Gibson offensive machine. He has passed for over 2,000 yards and run for another 700 in 2004. Grothe was one of the better quarterbacks to suit up in Gainesville as a junior. While his senior season has been superb, his performance in Pensacola was probably his worst of the year. He finished 6-19 for 93 yards and ran for only 32 yards. However, their opponent, Armwood gave up 302 yards thrrough the air and four touchdowns last weekend to Miami Washington, whose quarterback Alwan Lee also ran for 157 yards and a touchdown. Grothe, a USF commit, is capable of putting up some impressive numbers too.

The Braves defense gave up 366 yards to Pensacola last week. The Tigers ripped Lake Gibson for 246 yards on the ground. They have at times given up chunks of yardage. Thus far, they gave up too many points on one occasion, a 23-14 loss to Auburndale in week seven.

Armwood (12-1)

State Semi-finals: Defeated Miami Washington 36-35 at home

Tough opponents: wins over Jefferson 54-7 (Sept 24), Clearwater Countryside 35-13 (Nov 12), Cape Coral Mariner 50-7 (Nov 19), Middleton 61-30 (Nov 26) Offensive scoring:
Regular season: 467 points (51.8 ppg)
Playoffs: 182 points (45.5 ppg)

Regular season: 56 (6.2 ppg)
Playoffs: 85 points (21.25 ppg)

Armwood was forced to forfeit its week seven 27-7 victory over cross town rival Middleton after a misinterpretation of an FHSAA rule involving transfer students. Cornerback Akeem Joseph had transferred to the school from South Carolina after the death of his father. His mother sent him to live with his aunt. FHSAA rules state that a player who moves in with his parents must sit out for six days. However, athletes who move in with a relative must sit for one year. While the FHSAA approved a hardship ruling for Joseph allowing him to play immediately, they refused to remove the forfeit from Armwood's record. The Hawks finished behind Middleton as district runner-ups.

Despite the ruling and 1-0 forfeit, Armwood has destroyed everybody they have faced except last week's opponent Washington High School. The Hawks have relied on All-American running back Kalvin Bailey. The big bruiser was held in check by the Tornadoes speedy defense. But while Bailey gained only 51 yards, he bulled his way into the endzone for the two-point conversion, giving Armwood the win. Bailey told me last month that he is very interested in Nebraska, Miami, USC, Georgia, and Georgia Tech. Tailback Demetrius McCray ripped Middleton two weeks ago for 143 yards and three touchdowns. McCray hauled in an 80 yard flea-flicker for a score against Washington. He has rushed for over 1,300 yards and 22 touchdowns. Some of the schools interested in McCray are Auburn, Iowa, Indiana, USF, New Mexico, UCF, and Rutgers. Tackle Warren Forsythe did a terrific job of blocking in the Middleton game as well.

The Hawks defense posted four shutouts this season, including three in their final half of the season. This is definitely a unit that has improved. Sure, Armwood gave up 30 points to Middleton, but the Hwaks scored 61 on the Tigers. The near loss to Miami Washington shook this defense up, and should prevent them from overlooking Lake Gibson. Defensive back R.J. Anderson is the resident stud of the Hawks secondary.

Analysis: Lake Gibson is a talented football team. But, I just don't see their defense shutting down a powerful Armwood attack that utilizes the strength of their offensive front. The Armwood defense will be too tough for the Braves to penetrate.

Pick: Armwood

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