The Hawthorne football team is back in the state championship game, but so is Madison County.
Last Friday the Hornets knocked off Chipley, 24-6 in the Class 1A state semifinals to set up a showdown with Madison County, which beat Chiefland, 37-0, in the other state semifinal.
The Class 1A state title game is at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Gene Cox Stadium in Tallahassee. We’ll have coverage of the game beginning at 6:30 p.m. on 106.9 FM “I am Country” and online at IamCountryRadio.com.
Defense set the tone once again for Hawthorne last Friday as senior Anthony Morgan’s 50-yard pick-six gave the Hornets a 6-0 lead in the first quarter against the Tigers, who had knocked off defending champ Baker on the road in the 1A-Region 1 Final.
Morgan, who has four interceptions in three postseason games, also had a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 51-12 win against Pahokee in the region final.
“I am so proud of him,” Hawthorne coach Cornelius Ingram said following the win. “He has been starting on defense for three weeks, since the playoffs started, and he’s a great kid that everybody likes.”
Following the shutout at Chiefland last Friday, Madison County has three shutouts in its last four postseason games. They’ve outscored their four playoff opponents, 152-6.
Madison County has been a Class 1A powerhouse. They won three state titles in a row from 2017-2019 and they were 39-3 during that span.
Both teams enter the game with plenty of momentum.
After receiving a first-round bye, Hawthorne (10-0) has outscored its three playoff opponents, 125-32.
“Having a roster full of team-first athletes has been tremendous and it is a true testament to our student-athletes and the work they put in weekly to execute our game plan for the week,” said Hawthorne defensive coordinator Dustin Adkins.
The Hornets have never won a state title, but they did beat Madison County, 18-14, in last year’s state semifinals to advance to last year’s state title game, where they lost to Baker.
However, several key players returned from that state runner-up team.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys (10-3) have won eight in a row since a 28-26 loss to Class 5A Dunnellon on Oct. 1. They are back in the state championship game after a 1-year hiatus.
“I’m excited for our kids and staff,” Madison County coach Mike Coe said . “We have a lot who’ve never experienced it and it’s awesome to see the joy in their eyes. Every team is different and this one has endured one thing after another but, yet here we are.”
Defense wins championships and both have been stingy.
Madison County has 43 sacks and 13 interceptions this season, and the Cowboys are only allowing 1.5 points per game during the playoffs.
Hawthorne has three interception returns for touchdowns in its last two games.
“When opportunities have presented themselves, such as the pick-six to start the game, we have been in position and have capitalized most of the year,” Adkins said. “It has been very fun coaching these young men this year.”
The Hornets’ defense is only allowing 8.8 points per game for the season. However, that number is skewed because despite the opposition scoring 32 points in three playoff games, the defense only gave up 20, or an average of 6.7 ppg.
Junior Jailen Ruth leads the team with 102 tackles and 29 tackles for a loss. He also leads the Hornets with 17 sacks, followed by junior Stanley Cooks (65 total tackles) with eight sacks and 18 tackles for a loss.
Cam Cohens is the “best coverage player on the team and explosive in the return game as well,” said Adkins. Cohens averages over 27 yards per kickoff and punt return.
Morgan and senior Chris Jonas lead the team with three interceptions each.
As a team, Hawthorne has 14 fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions.
“Honestly, our athletes have bought into the game plan throughout the year, especially in the playoffs,” Adkins said. “It has been a true team approach, as we have relied on some guys who have played exclusively on offense to play on defense, and vice versa.”
Offensively, the Hornets are averaging 36.1 points per game.
“Offensively we have been able to establish the tone through our running game and the dominant play of our offensive line throughout the playoffs,” Adkins said.
Hawthorne has the luxury of two starting quarterbacks who each bring their own set of talents and skills.
Junior Tyler Jefferson, who currently holds offers from FSU, FAU, Kentucky, Maryland, and UConn, has thrown for 653 yards with six touchdowns with only one interception. He is second on the team with 721 yards rushing and leads the team with 16 rushing scores.
Chaz Mackey, who threw for a career-high 219 yards in last year’s state championship game, has thrown for 433 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. The senior, who was an All-Area selection last year, has a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Junior Brian James has a team-leading 1,171 yards rushing on 154 carries (7.6 avg.) and 13 touchdowns.
“Hawthorne has a huge OL who makes them go,” Coe noted.
Kylyn Bryant (6-foot-6, 340 pounds), Mozell Williams (6-foot-5), and Cooks (6-foot-3) help anchor the Hornets’ line.
Bryant has D-II and JUCO offers while Williams, a returning starter, and Cooks have garnered major college interest.
Morgan, who has a team-leading 19 catches for 304 yards, has been the leading receiver the last two seasons.
“The QB is a phenomenal athlete,” Coe said. “Skill kids with great speed and they play mighty hard. We can’t turn the ball over and have to limit the explosive plays.”
Madison County counters with an offense that is averaging 26.3 points per game. However, during their current four-game playoff run, the Cowboys are averaging 38 points per game.
“Madison County is exactly who they are each and every year, a hard-nose physical football team that will punch you in the mouth and try to take your will throughout four quarters of football,” Adkins said.
The Cowboys boast both a quarterback and running back who each have run for over 1,100 yards this year.
Junior QB Jamie Hampton has thrown for 605 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He is second on the team with 1,136 yards (8.0 ypc), and he leads the team with 10 rushing touchdowns.
Senior Tommie House leads the team with 1,304 yards for an average of 108.7 yards per game, including 236 yards rushing on only 15 carries last week in the win at Chiefland.
“They do a great job in shifting formations and trying to create leverage to get their lineman in front of their ball carriers on the majority of running plays,” Adkins said. “The key on defense will be to correctly align pre-snap and then to recognize and diagnose plays as they are happening. Being able to play fast, physical, and smart will be very vital to our success.”
The more physical team will likely win this game, but Adkins noted a couple of other keys to a Hornets’ victory.
“If we can avoid turnovers and negative plays, we will put ourselves in a good position to emerge with a victory.”