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October 26, 2011
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
As the biggest game of the year in the Tampa area approaches, both Seffner (Fla.) Armwood and Tampa (Fla.) Plant are loose.
Each team has had a good week of practice and had fun with preparations.
"We are both playing with house money," Plant coach Robert Weiner said. "This game is just good football. We aren't in the same district; we aren't in the same class. It doesn't hurt the playoff chances for either team so we can just get to go out and play."
While the game may not have an effect on playoff seeding, it will have a major impact on the national level.
Armwood enters the game No. 4 in the most recent RivalsHigh 100. Plant is No. 56.
"It feels good to be the hunter," Weiner said. "It seems like we have been the hyped team entering this game the last few years so it is nice that the target is on their back this year."
Being the hunted may be an advantage, but knowing your prey is important, too.
"I have been around enough to see ranked teams," Weiner said. "Some of those teams have been a lot of hype and some have been a lot of substance. Armwood is a lot of hype and a lot of substance."
According to Armwood coach Sean Callahan, the pursued is well aware of its pursuer.
"We are getting them at the wrong time," he said. "They are playing really good football right now and we are coming off a bad final 10 minutes of football last week."
It is more than just a rough finish. Plant has been a historically slow starting team that improves as the year goes on.
"Usually we get this game early in the year and that favors us," Callahan said.
"This game is always big," he said. "It has usually been in the first few weeks in the season so they are usually the ones that show us our weaknesses. Playing them at this point in the season may be an advantage for us."
And for them?
"Well the advantage for them is that they are really, really, really good," Weiner said.
Armwood currently has seven senior players committed to Division I college football teams. It has another five seniors that will likely join them.
It also has an underclassmen group loaded with talent.
"Our expectations are high," Callahan said. "We are a blue-collar team that works hard and we think that it pays off for us."
The team is still working its way toward it peak play. It has battled injuries all season and does not have several key players back to full strength.
Matt Jones, the teams four-star running back, is still hampered by a knee injury.
Callahan estimates him to be at about 90 percent of full ability.
His quarterback, junior Darryl Richardson, is now fully healthy but lagging behind in his development.
"I think he is healthy," Callahan said. "But he missed a lot. He is probably still on a Week 2 playbook and we are limited in that respect."
Callahan has alternated Richardson and fellow junior playmaker Alvin Bailey at quarterback.
"I think Bailey is a little more natural quarterback," Weiner said. "I guess that is a good problem for them to have.
"If you think that our advantage over them is our defense is against their offense you may have found the silver lining. That is a great team we will line up against. Their offense may be the lesser of two evils for us but it is still explosive."
Like it is one to do, Plant has steadily improved as the season has gone along.
A lot of that improvement has rested on the development on its quarterback as well.
After a slow start to the season, Few has improved considerably, according to Weiner.
"It was more a matter of getting him snaps," he said. "He has the ability and the intangibles."
Last week he completed passes to nine different receivers; over the last three games Few has thrown for more than 900 yards, nine touchdowns and only one interception.
It is a balance that Weiner likes and Callahan worries about.
"They are a better team than they were the last few years," Callahan said. "There are no marquee names over there, no Murray's or (James) Wilder's, but I think that makes them harder to contain. We can not tell our kids to shut down one guy and it will be easier for them. We have to play a complete game."
Its ability to not be star centric could be its strongest suit.
"We have less stars, no doubt," Weiner said. "But I think we have more football players. Our defense has finished in second place to our offense the last few years but that is a great group of kids on that side of the ball and on offense we are in a rhythm right now, using no-huddle and letting James stay comfortable and working up tempo.
"I like where we are right now."
What makes this the RivalsHigh Game of the Week is that Callahan likes where his team is at, too.
"Plant has improved," he said. "When that staff first got there the kids were soft and now they are a really good team.
"We needed to see the adversity last week to get us ready for this game. We are ready. It should be a great game."