'Canes look for redemption in tonight's regional final


Gainesville quarterback Mark Cato felt plenty of pressure during last year's Class 6A, Region 2 final, in which top-ranked Seffner Armwood rallied for a 17-14 victory. (Bill Ward/Tampa Tribune)

Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:42 p.m.

It seems appropriate that tonight, in the seniors' last game at Citizens Field, the top-ranked Gainesville Hurricanes face the team that brought them such heartache in 2011 — Seffner Armwood.

A year ago, it was the Hawks, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A and No. 2 nationally according to ESPN, that benefited from a controversial late fumble to pull out a 17-14 victory to eliminate Gainesville in the Region 2 finals. Ever since that night, the Hurricanes (12-0) have been hungry for redemption.

At 7:30 p.m., on their home field, they get that opportunity with a berth to the 6A state semifinals on the line.

Armwood, which had current Florida Gator running back Matt Jones and future Gator Alvin Bailey at quarterback, won the 6A state title a year ago, only to have it stripped six months later by the FHSAA for using ineligible players. This year's Hawks team (9-3) is not as dominant as a year ago, but obviously talented enough to be playing in the third round of the state playoffs.

“They are a great all-around team,” said second-year GHS coach James Thomson. “They definitely pose a challenge for us. This year we have had the opportunity to right some wrongs from a year ago, but at the same time it is just another game. We want to defend our field. Win or lose, for the seniors, it will be the last time they will play at Citizens Field.”

Since 2009, Gainesville is 28-1 at Citizens Field, with its only loss coming last season against 3A power Madison County. The Hurricanes avenged that loss by winning at Madison (14-9) this season.

Bailey, a top wide receiver recruit who leads the Hawks in receptions, replaced starter Darryl Richardson at quarterback following a 3-0 loss at district-rival Hillsborough. He was quarterback in last year's regional final, tossing the game-winning touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.

“We gave Darryl (Richardson) every opportunity, it just didn't materialize,” said Armwood coach Sean Callahan. “There is no question Alvin gives us more options there. He's been in a boot all week (turf toe), but Alvin will deal with it.

“We are young and not as big and scary as in the past. The last two opponents (Largo, Hillsborough) were supposed to beat us. We've got our hands full, no question about it. Our defense has been playing great.”

Thomson said his team needs to have better focus this week after last week's tough 21-10 win over district-rival Ocala Vanguard in the regional semifinals. In that game, the 'Canes committed four turnovers. Armwood, runner-up in District 8, beat its league champion Hillsborough 9-7 last week.

The Hawks' defense has forced 11 turnovers in winning both of its playoff games.

GHS quarterback Mark Cato said the team used last year's loss as motivation going into this season.

“We have come back stronger this year,” he said. “We have been looking forward to it. We are going to go out and play like we have all year, and show them we are ready for a battle. I hope we have a big turnout for us.”

Containing the elusive Bailey will a top priority for the GHS defense. A year ago, the 'Canes did a great job for most of the game.

“He (Bailey) is a good athlete, fast and quick, and of course he is going to Florida, so he is a good player,” said GHS senior linebacker Keith Kelsey. “We have to do our defensive assignments and we can take care of that.

“We are used to playing on that field and winning. We are still hungry like we were at the start of the season. My motto is, ‘Who's next?' Anybody can get it.”

For running back Ralph Webb, losing is not an option, especially at home.

“We want to leave it all out there on the field because this is going to be our last game at Citizens,” Webb said. “Anything less than a state title is a disappointment. A 10-0 season, district champs, city champs, all that means nothing. We are coming for our ultimate goal and that is a state championship.”

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