A dominant defensive performance helped the Hawthorne Hornets stay perfect with a 27-6 homecoming game victory over the Forest (Ocala) Wildcats.
Junior defensive end Jailen Ruth anchored Hawthorne’s defense with four sacks and a forced fumble.
“Since we were playing a bigger opponent, a lot of people thought we were gonna lose,” Ruth said. “I knew that if we came out with energy, we would win the game.”
At first, Forest matched Hawthorne’s defensive tenacity.
During Hawthorne’s second drive, junior quarterback Tyler Jefferson was shoved out of bounds before he could cross the goal line on fourth and goal.
After a scoreless first quarter, Hawthorne finally got on the board on the first play of the second quarter. Jefferson located senior receiver Devin Ray in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown strike, and then converted the two-point try with his legs.
On the next drive, Hawthorne linebacker Artavis Mallary picked off Forest quarterback Stephen Curry Jr. and returned it 54 yards.
“I thought I was gonna go all the way, but I got hawked down,” Mallary said.
But the Hornets could not cash in. Forest forced a turnover on downs to regain possession.
In the final minute of the first half, Ruth powered through the offensive line for a strip sack and Mallary recovered the fumble. Once again, Hawthorne couldn’t find the end zone, this time in a goal-to-go situation.
For the second straight week, Hawthorne led 8-0 at halftime.
“We want to start fast on offense,” said Hawthorne head coach Cornelius Ingram. “We’re a timing offense, so I think we got off schedule.”
Following its first-half nap, the Hawthorne offense woke up in the second half.
Jefferson capped off the Hornets’ first drive off the half with a one-yard rushing score to extend the lead to 14-0.
Forest orchestrated an impressive 88-yard drive in the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game. Junior wide receiver Xavier Troup hauled in an improbable first down catch, barely staying in bounds after the ball was tipped by a Hawthorne defensive back.
Then, Curry connected with Troup for a 28-yard score to cut the deficit to 14-6.
Hawthorne wasted no time with a response.
Junior running back Brian James broke free for a 42-yard gain to set up an 18-yard score by senior quarterback Chaz Mackey on a keeper around the right end.
The Hornets forced their third turnover of the game with senior cornerback Chris Jonas’ fumble recovery on Forest’s next possession. James finally found pay dirt with a three-yard touchdown run, and Hawthorne won 27-6.
Ruth finished with four sacks, including two on back-to-back plays, raising his total to 12 on the year. He also notched a couple of career milestones, reaching 200 total tackles and 25 sacks.
Hawthorne (7-0) is off next week, but hosts North Marion (5-3) on Nov. 5 with a chance at a perfect regular season for the Hornets.
And if the matchup wasn’t intriguing enough already, Mackey faces his former team, after playing for North Marion during his freshman and sophomore years.
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