Commentary

Armwood's front seven makes Murray look pedestrian

Originally Published: September 9, 2008
By Christopher Lawlor | ESPN.com

TAMPA -- Aaron Murray didn't have a chance. The brilliant quarterback prospect from Plant High met the enemy, the ferocious front four of rival Armwood (Seffner), Friday night with little success.

Armwood won an ugly 9-2 victory over Murray and the Panthers, thanks to the "Ball Hawks" -- Ryne Giddins (6-foot-4, 233 pounds), Theodore "Man Man" Jackson, Alton Bailey (6-4, 263) and David Tinsley (6-1, 215) -- who nested for 48 minutes in the Plant backfield.

"[Murray] didn't have a chance to blink," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "The defensive line set the tone."

It's no surprise, then, that the Armwood foursome is considered one of the top units in the nation.

The skinny on the frontline is unchained speed; all four ran sub-4.7s in the 40-yard dash. That's unheard of on the high school level, said Callahan.

Beyond that versatile line roams Under Armour All-American linebacker Petey Smith. Aided by his teammates in the trenches, Smith proved to everyone that he is recovered from an injury-plagued junior season. His performance on Friday night vaulted him into the ESPNU 150.

[+] EnlargePetey Smith
Auburn Undercover Petey Smith is the nation's No. 4 ILB.
Murray, a Georgia recruit, dropped his third straight start against Armwood. A well-schooled frontline that deploys multiple looks -- the Hawks used 3-4 and 4-3 formations -- and a bevy of stunts, twists, blitzes and zone passing coverage had Murray's head spinning, sending him into an uncharacteristically frenetic pace.

Murray passed for 119 yards, hitting on 13 of 36 passes, with an interception in the final minute as the Panthers were driving for the tying score.

"I knew he was in trouble the first time he stepped on the field; I dreamt about this moment," said Jackson, a 6-2, 226-pound rush end, who last played competitively three years ago for a Pop Warner team. "We never let him drop back and set his feet."

When the Hawks' offense sputtered, Giddins -- an All-American candidate who has 75 college offers -- knew the defense needed to make a stand. Giddins, who routinely drew double- and triple-teams while recording 21 sacks a year ago, roamed freely in the backfield Friday.

"[Murray] has tremendous field awareness and a strong arm; we're film junkies and we knew his tendencies," said Giddins, who lists South Florida, Florida, Southern California, LSU, Auburn and North Carolina as his main college suitors.

Armwood's four rang up some impressive numbers, including seven sacks and a safety (by Jackson), Friday night:

• Giddins: eight tackles, one tackle for loss, four QB hurries, two sacks, one breakup

• Jackson: six tackles, two tackles for loss, three sacks, two hurries

• Tinsley: three tackles, one for loss, one sack, two hurries
• Bailey: three tackles, one sack, one hurry

When Mark Thompson, Armwood's defensive coordinator, dissected the game-film he was mainly impressed with the unit's "initial surge."

"Seemed like they were immediately two steps into the backfield right after the ball was snapped," Thompson said. "I liked the bull rush, ripping outside and the spin moves on the outside."

The nationally-ranked Hawks are accustomed to defending high-level quarterbacks. Two of their last three losses have come at the hands of quarterbacks Tim Tebow of Nease (Ponta Vedra) in 2005 and Robert Marve of Plant in 2006, who are now starters for Florida and Miami, respectively. Tebow is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

Armwood's last three losses have all occurred in the Class 4A playoffs to eventual state champions. The Hawks are currently the state's No. 2 team -- regardless of class -- according to the Beef O' Brady poll.

Although Murray is winless against the Hawks, they may see him again in the regional playoffs. Murray will have redemption in his sights.

"We have to move onto the next game," said Giddins, whose team hosts Wharton (Tampa) Friday. "For now it's a wrap; like Saran [wrap]."

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball.

Christopher Lawlor

High School Basketball
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years.