SEFFNER - Ironically, Springstead's finest football season in nearly four decades ended the way it began - behind a lopsided loss on the road.
Had Friday night's Class 6A, Region II final at Lyle Flagg Stadium been a prize fight, the white towel would have surely been tossed into the ring.
The host Seffner-Armwood Hawks weren't about to be eliminated like they were the year before in this round by Gainesville, 42-10.
Instead, the Hillsborough County club dissected the Eagles behind junior quarterback Noah Johnson's 10-of-20 passing effort for a game-high 249 yards and three touchdowns to eliminate the Hernando County club, 41-0.
With the win, the Hawks (13-0) will host a 6A state semifinal next Friday at home against St. Johns-Bartram Trail. On Friday, the 8-5 Bears outlasted the 9-4 Choctawhatchee Indians, 17-14.
All told, the Hawks shredded Springstead's (11-2) previously vaunted defense for a season-high 412 yards, or a 4-to-1 ratio over the Eagles' season-low 103 yards.
The shutout not only snapped the Spring Hill squad's 11-game win skein, but was also the Eagles' first whitewash since John Palmer's Leopards thrashed SHS at Booster Stadium on Oct. 21, 2011, 42-0.
The 6-foot, 175-pound Johnson, who arrived completing 101-of-167 passes (61 percent) for 1,637 yards, added his 14th, 15th and 16th touchdown passes of the season to three different receivers.
Sophomore Trevor Laurent was Johnson's favorite target with four receptions for a game-high 126 yards and his fourth touchdown grab - a season-long 70-yarder in the third quarter.
Senior Hunter Zibar torqued his body in the air to readjust for Johnson's 9-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the first quarter. That reception was Zibar's third of the season.
Senior Austin Gallon's 44-yard grab in the second quarter served as his fourth of the season.
The Hawks ripped a page out of the Eagles' book the last two playoff games by scoring on their opening possession.
With the wind at his back, SHS punter Tyler Mahla unleashed a season-long 65-yard punt the pinned the Hawks back at their own 3.
But AHS extricated itself in a blink as Johnson connected with a wide-open Laurent for 37 yards and followed with a 28-yard strike to senior Talvin Bailey.
In six snaps, the Hawks covered 97 yards of real estate capped by Johnson's 11-yard keeper.
Johnson finished with four carries for 24 yards.
Junior placekicker Sterling Hofrichter followed with the first of five perfect point-afters with 6:13 showing in the first quarter.
After Springstead fullback Daniel Wright was stopped short on fourth-down-and-1 from the Armwood 43, the hosts traversed 57 yards in six plays to double their advantage.
In the drive, Johnson connected on 4-of-4 attempts through the air for 51 yards.
Trailing 14-0, SHS went three-and-out against a Hawk defense led by juniors Jordan Griffin and Byron Cowart, and sophomore Justin Manning.
Mahla's next punt was buffeted in the air and resulted in a season-low 3-yard effort.
Two snaps later, AHS senior Greg Newton burst up the middle unscathed for a 29-yard touchdown run.
Hofrichter's third PAT with 9:04 left in the half made it, 21-0.
Three plays later, Mahla suffered the first of two interceptions as sophomore Dedarello Blue snared a pass that the Eagle signal caller threw off his wrong foot.
Five snaps later, AHS cashed the opportunity into points as Gallon hauled in his touchdown pass, 28-0.
With 54 seconds left in the first half, Hofrichter converted the first of his two field goal attempts from 21 yards, 31-0. On this drive, Eagle senior defensive tackle Travis O'Neil was ejected from the game for unsporting behavior.
On the initial seven snaps of the third quarter, both teams traded picks.
Johnson suffered the first of his two thefts to open the second half on a pick by senior Latavious Hannah.
But Mahla, who was harassed into a 3-for-8 effort for eight passing yards and was sacked twice, was intercepted by Aaron Covington.
Three plays following Covington's theft, Johnson torched the Eagle secondary with a long strike to Laurent, 38-0. That score initiated a running clock.
AHS closed the scoring behind Hofrichter's 46-yard field goal with 9:21 left.
Hofrichter was a one-man wrecking crew on special teams. Besides launching four touchbacks - his 60th, 61st, 62nd and 63rd of the season - his angled onside kick in the first half was recovered by Covington.
Both teams suffered three turnovers as SHS added a Tyler Toth pick off Johnson and a fumble recovery by freshman Zachary Lawrence in the second half against back-up signal caller Darrian McNeil.
Compounding matters: for the second time in three weeks, Wright was taken off the field on a stretcher as a precaution when he was knocked out cold carrying out a fake against the heavily recruited 6-foot-4, 265-pound Cowart. Wright (11 carries/37 yards) did not return to the game.
Mahla led the Eagles' offensively with 47 hard-earned yards on 16 carries.
Outside a somber Eagle dressing room, Lawrence recalled his fumble recovery, saying, "It was crazy. I saw it lying on the turf and I thought about scooping it up and running, but at the last second I just fell on it."
On what hurt most, "It's harder to see the seniors go out like this," explained the 15-year-old Lawrence. "Armwood had so many more athletes than we did; they basically out-athleted us."
On how this season will be remembered, "The bar was raised monumentally for us," pointed out Lawrence. "It's set higher than it's ever been set at. This team will be remembered as the best Hernando County team of all-time."
The Eagles' defensive line mentor Frank Hynes might have best summed up the Springstead effort.
"We came to play, but Armwood was bigger, stronger and faster. Credit belongs to Armwood. They were well-coached. They're easily the best team we faced all year," emphasized Hynes.
"On that first 97-yard drive, we didn't adjust well to their speed," he recalled. "We played catchup the rest of the night.
"Personally, I can't take anything away from our season based on this one game. It was a great run. Now it's time to pick up and move on."
Armwood 41, Springstead 0
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
SPG 0 0 0 0 -- 0
ARMW 14 17 7 3 -- 41
ARMW - Johnson 11 run (Hofrichter kick).
ARMW - Zibar 9 pass from Johnson (Hofrichter kick).
ARMW - Newton 29 run (Hofrichter kick).
ARMW - Gallon 44 pass from Johnson (Hofrichter kick).
ARMW - Hofrichter 21 FG.
ARMW - Laurent 70 pass from Johnson (Hofrichter kick).
ARMW - Hofrichter 46 FG.
First Downs 6 12
Atts./Rushing Yds. 38-95 25-163
Comp./Pass Atts./Int. 3-8-2 10-20-2
Passing Yds. 8 249
Total Offense 46-103 45-412
Fumbles/Lost 3-1 2-1
Return Yards 3-39 1-7
Punts/Avg. 5-35.6 1-36.0
Penalties 4-27 3-30