It was quite the journey for the Hawthorne and Buchholz football teams.
Hawthorne made a run all the way to the Class 1A state championship game, while Class 7A Buchholz won two playoff games, including a postseason win at previously unbeaten Navarre.
Because of their success, Hawthorne’s Cornelius Ingram and Buchholz’s Mark Whittemore have been recognized as the inaugural Mainstreet Daily News/The Prep Zone Small School and Big School Coach of the Year, respectively.
“I am honored to be the Small School Coach of the Year,” said Ingram, who played football and basketball at Hawthorne and the University of Florida. “This award shows I have great coaches and players around me.”
The Hornets (10-3) were led offensively by North Marion transfer Chaz’ Mackey. The junior quarterback threw for over 1,500 yards with 17 touchdowns, including a career-high 219 yards and two touchdowns in the state championship game.
All Area running back Dre Lawrence and a big, physical offensive line, led by All Area lineman Thurman Mills, helped pave the way for a ball-control offense.
The defense played at a high level, allowing just 10.8 points per game heading into the Class 1A title game.
Sophomore Jailen Ruth (131 tackles), junior Jayquan Williams (134), and senior Rolaundus Watson (103) all went over the century mark in tackles. The All Area trio combined for 55 tackles for a loss.
It was a winning recipe that took Hawthorne all the way to the first championship game appearance in school history.
“This football season was one amazing ride,” said Ingram, who coached the girls’ basketball team to the Class 1A state title last February. “And of course, the best football season in school history so far.”
So far is right.
Despite the 27-14 loss to Baker in the 1A title game, the Hornets return several key players to make another run in 2021.
Meanwhile, the Buchholz football team bounced back from a season-opening loss to Oakleaf (Orange Park) by winning eight straight games, including two playoff games under Whittemore.
“I accept this award as a team award,” Whittemore said. “I thank God for the opportunity to be surrounded with such a fantastic administration, coaching staff, and group of young men.”
Before the season, Whittemore said the Bobcats would be ‘gritty but not pretty.’ They ended up being both.
“Buchholz football equals culture first, talent second,” he said. “The program is dedicated to grit, and relentless to achieve the outcome we desire.”
Whittemore had a double Quan blessing on the field.
Running back Quan Smith was the first Buchholz back to have consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in over 15 years, while Quan Lee was the first receiver over 1,000 yards at Buchholz since the early 2000s.
Plus, his son Creed, a sophomore, completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,675 yards and 23 touchdowns against only four interceptions, earning him an All Area nod alongside dad.
That trio on offense, and a stout defense, helped the Bobcats to an 8-2 season. They lost a double-overtime thriller to Niceville in the Class 7A-Region 1 semifinals.
“The 2020 season was one that saw our players really play with love for one another,” Whittemore said. “It was fun to coach such a courageous, talented, and relentless group.”
A panel of sports writers and coaches selected the 2020 All Area Football Team from Mainstreet’s eight-county coverage area. Each player and both coaches will receive a commemorate plaque recognizing their accomplishments.
This is the fifth story in a five-part series on the 2020 All Area Football Team, presented by Mainstreet Daily news and The Prep Zone. To see the full roster and previous stories, click here.