It took all kinds of victories but by the end of the night, Tampa's bid for three state championships remained intact. Jefferson (Tampa, Fla.)
, Armwood (Seffner, Fla.)
and Plant (Tampa, Fla.)
each won their state semifinal game and advanced to this week's state championship games.
For Plant, their last hurdle came surprisingly easy via a 48-6 blowout against a strong Lakeland team in the Class 5A semifinal.
Jefferson had to rally and hold on for a 28-27 win against St. Augustine in the Class 3A semifinal.
And Armwood needed the heroics of a late field goal to upend Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens) 22-20 and advance in the Class 4A semifinal.
Lakeland's program owns six state football championship rings but it was no match for Plant Friday in their 5A showdown.
* The Panther's Eric Patterson
returned the opening kickoff 87 yards for a score and running back James Wilder Jr.
followed with five rushing touchdowns in the 42-point victory.
By the time the game was over, Wilder, a Florida State commit who piled up 215 yards rushing, was signing autographs for the Lakeland fans and cheerleaders. The Panthers were without quarterback Phillip Ely (back injury) but senior Nick Sanders
filled in and the offense barely missed a beat.
Plant (13-1) will play 14-0 St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale), ranked no. 4 nationally by MaxPreps, in the Class 5A state championship game Dec. 17 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
* Jefferson, meanwhile, after falling behind in the first quarter, had to rally and survive a dogfight in the Class 3A state semifinal.
And for all of the Dragons' offensive fireworks this season, it took a converted fourth down and inches to move them on to the state title game.
Jefferson quarterback Quentin Williams
threw for 240 yards and two touchdowns (his 52nd and 53rd of the season) but it was his 1-yard run on that fourth down and subsequent 2-yard touchdown run that lifted the Dragons to the 28-27 win against St. Augustine.
Jefferson's Ladarius Moye
got the Dragons on the board with a 50-yard return for a touchdown on a blocked St. Augustine field goal attempt.
Jefferson (14-0) will play Norland (Miami) (13-1) Dec. 17 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando for the Class 3A state crown.
* As for Armwood, ranked no. 6 nationally by MaxPreps, its win against Dwyer featured the most adversity it had faced all season.
Not only did Dwyer lead early (5-0 in the first) and in the middle (14-13 in the third) but the Panthers seemingly put the game away with 19 seconds left when Tommylee Lewis scored on a 13-yard touchdown catch.
But the Hawks rallied again behind quarterback Josh Grady
, who completed two passes to move Armwood into field goal range. As time expired, kicker Darrell Dudney
nailed a 44-yarder to lift an exulted Hawks team into the state championship game.
Grady finished the contest with 294 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Armwood with play Lincoln (Tallahassee) (10-4) in the Class 4A championship game Dec. 18 at the Citrus Bowl.