Defense has been the calling card of the Hawthorne Hornets during their runs to back-to-back state championship game appearances.
Friday night against Pahokee in the Region 4-1R final, the Hornets had to hold on. And hold they did.
The host Hornets (10-0) stopped Pahokee (9-3) on fourth down with 2 minutes left and came up big when they needed to win 21-20 over the Blue Devils and advanced to the state semifinal round for the fourth straight year.
Hawthorne will host Blountstown next Friday.
The Hornets pounded Pahokee 51-12 in last year’s Region 4-1A final. But it was clear early on this was going to be a different game.
Hawthorne didn’t have their best game on offense but took advantage of opportunities and Pahokee miscues.
Pahokee drove inside the Hornets’ 5-yard line in the opening quarter, but Darian Smith-Williams picked off Blue Devils quarterback Austin Simmons at the goal line and was heading to the other end for a pick six when he tripped and fell at the Pahokee 25-yard line.
Hawthorne went backwards and had to punt, but Pahokee fumbled the punt at the 15-yard line. Isaiah Donaldson scored on the very next play to give the Hornets a 7-0 lead.
Pahokee answered as Jashon Benjamin returned the ensuing kickoff to the Hawthorne 10-yard line. Simmons found BJ Bolden in the middle of the end zone for the score, but the Blue Devils missed the extra point and trailed 7-6.
“Pahokee definitely came to play,” Hawthorne coach Cornelius Ingram said. “This has become a rivalry between the two teams and they gave us a game we expected.”
The second quarter was mostly about defense. And it was Hawthorne’s Jailen Ruth who once again came up big.
Ruth picked a Simmons screen pass out of mid-air and took it back 30 yards for a touchdown and the Hornets extended their lead to 14-6. Hawthorne kept that lead into halftime.
Hawthorne took over in the 3rd quarter after a Pahokee punt and had their longest drive of the game. Sophomore quarterback CJ Ingram ran in from 4 yards out and the Hornets appeared to be in control up 21-6.
“We decided we were going to keep the ball on the ground and run as much clock as possible,” Cornelius Ingram said. “We thought we could tire out their defense and they started to cramp some.”
The Blue Devils got back on the board with 10 minutes left on a 27-yard TD by Benjamin, then after a Hawthorne punt went right back down the field and Simmons scored on a 1-yard run. The two-point conversion was good and suddenly it was 21-20.
“Pahokee came here a day before the game to try to change things up,” Cornelius Ingram said. “They had a good game plan but we made enough plays to hold on.”
The Blue Devils got the back with four minutes left but were stopped on 4th down and the Hornets held on from there.
Pahokee shot themselves in the foot with numerous penalties — including four in a row at one point — and had three costly turnovers. The game all around was pretty chippy, with a melee between coaches and players of the two teams as the game ended.
“It was unfortunate after the game, but it was pretty chippy overall,” Ingram said. “It was a tough game all around and there was some frustrating coming out on both sides after the game.”
Friday, Nov. 25, results
Class 1R-Region 3
Union County (Lake Butler) 41, Lafayette (Mayo) 6
Class 1R-Region 4
Hawthorne 21, Pahokee 20
Class 1S-Region 2
Trinity Catholic (Ocala) 48, P.K. Yonge 7
Class 2S-Region 1
Florida State University (Tallahassee) 38, Suwannee (Live Oak) 13
Class 2S-Region 2
Bradford (Starke) 28, Baker County (Glenn St. Mary) 17
Class 3S-Region 1
Columbia (Lake City) 20, Choctawhatchee (Fort Walton Beach) 14, OT
Class 4S-Region 1
Buchholz 21, Bartram Trail (St. Johns) 20