TAMPA, Fla. - Lakeland and Armwood’s football programs have a combined 11 state championships between them, if you count two Armwood's two stripped titles. These two football teams are loaded with college talent.
Armwood has lost just four games in the last three years. The defending state champs, Lakeland, have lost just once in three seasons, and are winners of 28 straight.
"Long anticipated. It's been over 20 years since we played,” said Armwood head coach, Evan Davis.
"I truly believe the Armwood team is probably better than the one we played in the state championship last year against St. Thomas,” said Lakeland head coach Bill Castle. "They've got that kind of players."
Castle knows talent he's seen a ton of players play at the next level in his 44 years as the Dreadnaughts’ head coach. He has a special one this year in running back, Demarkcus Bowman. The Clemson commit has a chance to become the Dreadnaughts’ all-time leading rusher, if Lakeland returns to the state final.
Amazingly, in his three-year varsity career, he's averaged a first down every time he's touched the ball.
"Demarkcus has got a little bit of everything,” said Castle. "He has the speed, power and he can do one-cut moves and make you miss. Always running vertical upfield behind his pads. He's a great back."
There are other running backs that can do that too, but what makes this five-star arguably the best back in the country?
"I can't really tell you,” laughed Bowman. "Just working, working out, squats, watching film. Focusing on working on your craft. Mainly focusing on the things that you're really not good at and focusing on that. Eventually you'll be a little better than. That's about it."
Stopping Bowman tops Armwood’s list, and they have a defense to match up. The Hawks have shut out seven of the 12 teams they've faced.
"Their defense line is like 6-4 250, I don't know their names,” said Castle. "Number 99. he's 310 [pounds]; their defensive ends are very fast. They have a great secondary. I think all of them have offers."
Lakeland won't be playing this game in the friendly confines of their own stadium, but they won't have too far to travel. Just down the road for a high school version of a War on I-4.
"It's definitely a war,” said Bowman. "Both teams have great programs and I know it's going to be a battle Friday night."
"If this was over in Orlando and we had 10,000 people, the stadium would feel empty,” said David. "If we have 6,000 here on Friday night this place is going to be packed with a lot of energy."
"Our fans are going to make it feel like home,” added Bowman. "I know they are going to show up. It's going to be good, man."
It could be one for the ages.