Friday night’s game in Lake Butler between Hawthorne and Union County was highly anticipated.
Both teams had lengthy playoff runs last year and both entered the game ranked top five in the state in Class 1R.
So, this had the making of a classic.
And despite Class 1R No. 2 Union County’s 21-0 lead at the half, the game came down to one final big play.
There were plenty of them at Marvin Pritchett Field, but it was the visiting Hornets who delivered the knockout blow with just seconds to play.
Hornets’ sophomore quarterback C.J. Ingram, the son of head coach Cornelius Ingram, launched a 4th-and-15 pass into the end zone that was caught by senior wide receiver Darian Smith-Williams for a 35-yard touchdown with just five seconds to play in Hawthorne’s 28-21 win.
The Hornets, who were ranked fifth in Class 1R by MaxPreps, improved to 6-0 with the win.
“We didn’t flinch, and it’s nothing towards Union County,” coach Ingram said. “I told my guys at halftime that there is no way they’re 21 points better than us in two quarters. We wanted them to put drives together, but they hit us with those big plays, there was so much time left in the game, but we were confident the entire time.”
The first big play came just 21 seconds into the game as Union County senior quarterback A.J. Cortese faked a handoff to leading rusher Rayvon Durant and took it 85 yards to the house for the score.
The 7-0 lead increased on their next possession as Durant scored on a 52-yard run and it was 14-0 just three minutes into the game.
Then, following a Hawthorne fumble on a punt that was recovered by Union County’s Dalton Lane at the Hornets’ 40-yard line, the Tigers struck again.
Following a 5-yard penalty, they finished off a 45-yard scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown run by Cortese on 4th-and-goal for a 21-0 lead with 8:57 to play in the half.
“I thought the first half we played really well,” said Union County coach Andrew Thomas. “We kind of got stuck on some stuff in the second quarter, and I thought for the most part defensively in the second half we played well but just a blown coverage on one, a missed call down there.”
The “missed call” was one of the key plays in the game and it occurred in the third quarter.
With Hawthorne backed up deep in its own territory, Ingram appeared to fumble the football in the end zone with Union County recovering the ball.
However, on the option pitch outside it was ruled an incomplete pass.
“That totally changed the game,” Thomas said. “If we’re up 28-0 in the third, ball game. You pretty much can seal it at that point. The ball game’s over.”
Instead, the incompletion gave the Hornets the life they needed.
Later in the quarter, the Tigers helped the Hornets out when a bad snap on a punt gave the Hornets the ball at the Union County 45-yard line.
Hawthorne took advantage as Ingram threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Williams with 8:04 to play in the third quarter. Sophomore Sam Carroll, who made all four extra points, added the extra point to make it 21-7 with 8:04 to play in the third quarter.
Ingram and Williams have developed some chemistry as the pair also hooked up on a game-winning touchdown in Hawthorne’s overtime win at Orlando Christian Prep.
“I can’t say enough about him (Williams),” said Coach Ingram. “He’s been special all year. And we’re talking about in the return game, games where he has kick returns and punt returns for touchdowns already, receiving touchdowns, interceptions, he’s doing everything for our football team.”
Even on that last play.
“He told me, ‘Coach, give me a shot, I’m ready,’ and C.J. said ‘let’s go,’ and it was a great ball, he went up and made a play,” Coach Ingram said. “Great win. It’s just a big-time win for our team.”
There was a different swagger after Hawthorne scored its first touchdown in the second half as the momentum quickly shifted to last year’s state runners-up.
“After the first touchdown, seeing the crowd erupt, it just gave me my momentum,” said the sophomore quarterback. “I saw something that I’ve never seen before in my teammates.”
On the ensuing kick, Union County nearly turned it over and began its next drive at its 2-yard line. Durant exploded for a 48-yard run, giving him 100 of his yards on two huge plays.
However, the drive stalled and Hawthorne was able to drive 88-yards on their next possession, capping the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run by Ingram to close the gap to 21-14 with 2:19 to play in the third quarter.
Following a sack by Washington State commit Jailen Ruth back to the 11-yard line, the Hornets were given a short field after the punt and they began their next scoring drive at the Union County 41-yard line.
It was Ingram who scored again from four yards out to tie the game at 21-21 with 11:42 to play.
“Coming into this game there was a lot of pressure,” CJ Ingram said. “I tried to keep it outside my head. First half I was kind of shook up, but I trusted my teammates, I trusted my coaches, I listened to what my dad was telling me and my uncle (Greg Bowie). I knew what I could do to and come out with this win with my teammates.”
After a stop on fourth down at the Hawthorne 19-yard line with 4:04 to play, and an 81-yard scoring drive that was also aided by a key holding call on Union County with :32 to play, the Hornets stung the Tigers.
It was also the most disappointing loss for Thomas in a Sunshine State game, equivalent to his worst loss ever when he was in Alabama.
“We didn’t help ourselves out and we didn’t get any help either,” Thomas said. “It’s just disappointing. This one hurts. I’ve had probably one other loss in my career that hurt this bad. When I was in Alabama, we lost a game similar to this and when you feel like you give it away at times too, it’s just frustrating.”
Union County, which dropped to 4-2, will host Santa Fe (Alachua) next Friday night, while Hawthorne will host North Marion (Citra).
“When you come on the road in a hostile environment like Union County and pick up a win it says a lot about your team,” Coach Ingram said. “I think we have some great leadership and I think I have a wonderful coaching staff, and we believe and trust each other and that’s what it’s all about. No matter what.”
Matanzas (Palm Coast) 22, Gainesville 14
Buchholz 45, Oakleaf (Orange Park) 31
Hawthorne 28, Union County 21
Bradford (Starke) 36, Tocoi Creek (St. Augustine) 7
Newberry 14, Eastside 7
Suwannee (Live Oak) 36, Madison County 7
Columbia (Lake City) 28, Middleburg 14
Williston 56, Trenton 0
Oak Hall School 44, Cedar Creek Christian (Jacksonville) 16
P.K. Yonge 44, St. Joseph Academy (St. Augustine) 14
Fort White 21, Dixie County (Cross City) 13
Interlachen 26, Bell 19
Melbourne Central Catholic 14, St. Francis Catholic Academy 13
Central (Brooksville) 28, Branford 27
Palatka 48, Keystone Heights 30
Zarephath Academy (Jacksonville) at Chiefland — canceled
OFF – Bronson, Santa Fe (Alachua)