Hawthorne returns to state championship

Hawthorne's Darian Smith-Williams powers forward for a touchdown.
Hawthorne's Darian Smith-Williams powers forward for a touchdown against Blountstown on Friday. (Photo by Seth Johnson)

Guess who’s back?

Back again are the Hawthorne Hornets, who will head to their third-straight state championship after a 28-0 win over Blountstown in the Class 1R state semifinals on Friday.

There were questions as to whether Hawthorne would host the state semifinal after complaints filed by Pahokee High School officials, claiming that Annie Mae Phillips Stadium was unsuitable for future playoff games. The FHSAA approved Hawthorne to host Friday night’s game after a series of meetings throughout the week.

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“We love our community,” said Hawthorne athletic director and defensive coordinator Dustin Adkins after Friday’s game. “We think our community has always been extra supportive of us. It really is a testament to our kids and our players. All the outside noise, they just kind of stayed focused and they didn’t let the ‘where the football game’s going to be located’ distract them.”

Hawthorne's Darian Smith-Williams breaks a tackle at the 4-yard line before returning a punt 96 yards for a touchdown.
Photo by Seth Johnson Hawthorne’s Darian Smith-Williams breaks a tackle at the 4-yard line before returning a punt 96 yards for a touchdown.

Hawthorne head coach Cornelius Ingram further explained that the team’s preparation this week was one of the best he’s seen in his eight years of coaching.

“You’re talking about during the time where something is posted about you every hour,” Ingram said. “My guys were locked in all week. We could have played this football game on Highway 301 right in front of Burger Bar, and my guys would have been ready to play.”

Darian Smith-Williams scored three touchdowns, including a 96-yard punt return, while Jailen Ruth was a force in the backfield with a safety and a tipped-pass leading to an interception.

Senior running back Isaiah Donaldson rushed for 42 yards on four carries in the Hornets’ opening drive, which was capped off by a 7-yard touchdown run by quarterback C.J. Ingram with 8:19 left in the first quarter.

After a Ruth sack stifled Blountstown’s next drive, a special teams play sparked the next score.

Smith-Williams’ fielded a punt at his own 4-yard line that led to the play of the night as he found blocks and raced for a 96-yard touchdown.

Another botched PAT attempt would make the score 12-0 heading into the second quarter.

Hawthorne's Jailen Ruth tackles the Tigers' quarterback for a safety for a 14-point lead on Friday.
Photo by Seth Johnson Hawthorne’s Jailen Ruth tackles the Tigers’ quarterback for a safety for a 14-point lead on Friday.

The Hornets suffered a massive injury scare when Ingram was sacked and suffered and injured his right foot. His night ended and he returned to the sidelines in the third quarter with a boot on his foot. However, the Hornets anticipate he’ll be ready for the state championship.

“Whatever happens, whoever’s playing, they’ll be ready and prepared to play,” Coach Ingram said. “We’re going to everything necessary, everything possible to get him back for the game.”

Hawthorne would punt after Ingram’s injury, but on Blountstown’s ensuing drive, Ruth had a sack in the endzone for a safety and a Hawthorne 14-0 with 5:09 left in the half.

After Hawthorne was intercepted in the endzone on its next possession, the Hornets’ defense stung the Tigers as Ruth knocked a pass up in the air which was picked off by Darian Owens and returned to the Blountstown 8-yard line.

Smith-Williams would punch it in on the very next play, and Sam Carroll’s PAT would give the Hornets a 21-0 halftime lead.

The Hornets started the second half right where they left off. Despite not having Ingram, Hawthorne’s offense ran a 12-play, 66-yard drive capped off by Smith-Williams’ 14-yard touchdown run for a 28-0 lead with 5:33 left in the third quarter.

Four Hornet defenders swam and force a loss of yardage against Blountstown on Friday
Photo by Seth Johnson Four Hornet defenders swam and force a loss of yardage against Blountstown on Friday

Despite making it to the state title the last two seasons, the Hornets have yet to bring home the title. Ingram says that their ability to overcome adversity is a difference maker.

“I don’t know if we went through more adversity this year or not, but it’s rare to close it,” Ingram said. “There’s been some personal things that have happened to some of these kids, and they still have chosen to be around their brothers and this brotherhood that we’ve created.”

The Hornets will face 13-0 Northview (Bratt), who defeated Union County 21-11 on Friday, in the Class 1R state championship at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, at Gene Cox Stadium in Tallahassee.

Friday, Dec. 2 – State Semifinals

Class 1R
Hawthorne (10-0) 28, Blountstown 0

Northview (Bratt) 21, Union County (Lake Butler) 11

Class 2S
Cocoa 31, Bradford (Starke) 21

Class 3SLake Wales 37, Columbia (Lake City) 7

Class 4SVenice 42, Buchholz 35

Hawthorne's CJ Ingram walks into the end zone untouched to give the Hornets the first touchdown of the game against Blountstown on Friday.
Photo by Seth Johnson Hawthorne’s CJ Ingram walks into the end zone untouched to give the Hornets the first touchdown of the game against Blountstown on Friday.
Two Hawthorne defenders break up a long pass against Blountstown on Friday.
Photo by Seth Johnson Two Hawthorne defenders break up a long pass against Blountstown on Friday.

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