It was truly a game of two halfs and Hawthorne coach Cornelius Ingram told his Hornets team at halftime that when it was time to review the game film, he wanted it to look like night and day.
And in the second half, that’s what the undefeated Class 1R Hornets did in a 21-12 win over winless Class 2M Gibbs (St. Pete).
In the first half, Hawthorne (5-0) misfired on both sides of the ball as the visiting Gladiators (0-6) recovered a fumble on a botched Hornets handoff at their own 31-yard line. Gibbs then drove down the field – aided by five Hawthorne penalties – to score on a 25-yard pass play. A missed extra point kick put Gibbs ahead 6-0 with 3:23 to play in the first quarter.
Ingram knew his team shouldn’t overlook Gibbs because he knew who was coaching on the other sideline – his former University of Florida football teammate.
“We came out flat, but the crazy thing is all week – (Gibbs coach) Louis Murphy is a great friend of mine and he hasn’t been coaching for the first four, five weeks of the season and hasn’t been to practice – I told my team this will be his first game, and I knew they were going to be prepared to play,” Ingram said. “(Murphy) had his guys ready to play. We’re not taking anything away from that team, because we’re talking about four of those guys have Division I offers from pretty good schools, so they have ballplayers.”
Hawthorne continued to sputter on its next drive that got within inches from the end zone before an unsportsmanlike penalty set the Hornets back to the 16-yard line. Three plays later, the Hornets missed a field goal attempt following a bad snap.
After forcing Gibbs to punt on its next drive, the Hornets marched 52 yards with quarterback CJ Ingram scoring on a 4-yard keeper and the extra point kick was good for a 7-6 lead with 3:45 left in the half.
One of the turning points of the game came on the next drive as Gibbs punted, but a Hawthorne player attempted to pick the ball up in the middle of a crowd, couldn’t handle it and the Gladiators recovered the botched punt return attempt at the Hawthorne 25-yard line.
With 32 seconds left, Gibbs had a first-and-goal at the 9-yard line, but the Gladiators’ running back was stripped as he was crossing into the end zone and the Hornets recovered.
“That was huge,” Ingram said. “We put an emphasis on how important this stop was going to be for our ballclub because we knew they (Gibbs) were going to be getting the ball coming out of the half. We knuckled up, wound up causing a fumble and recovering it.”
The Gladiators took the second-half kickoff and found a soft spot in the middle of Hawthorne’s defense with pass plays of 16, 14, 15 and 13 yards as they went on to score on a 13-yard quarterback keeper with 6:38 left in the third quarter. A 2-point pass attempt failed and Gibbs went ahead,12-7.
Then the light switched on for Hawthorne.
The Hornets opened its drive with a pitch to Ga ‘mon Randall that went through his hands but bounced back to him and he ran for 10 yards. Hawthorne drove to the 11-yard line before two snaps sailed over CJ’s head, coupled with a delay of game penalty, that set the Hornets back to the 40-yard line. But on the next play, Gibbs was called for a roughing the passer penalty that gave the Hornets a first down at the 25-yard line.
Five plays later, Isaiah Donaldson took an inside handoff and bulldozed his way into the end zone to put Hawthorne ahead 14-12 with 11:51 left in the contest.
Hawthorne’s defense forced a 3-and-out on the next Gibbs possession and the Hornets would go ahead by two scores when CJ connected with Donaldson on an 11-yard touchdown pass to go up 21-12 with 8:32 remaining.
The last three Gibbs possessions ended with a Darian Smith-Williams interception, a 3-and-out punt and a Donaldson interception.
“We always try to put an emphasis on finishing and when we turn on our film tomorrow, we’ll look night and day in the second half,” Ingram said. “And that’s all from doing a halftime speech, let’s make the film look night and day from the first half, especially when there were a lot of penalties, we’re playing sloppy, we’re fighting through adversity and there should be a change.
“We came out with a lot of energy on that defensive side of the ball, we got a stop, the offense got the ball, took it down and scored, the momentum shifted, the guys started relaxing and started playing Hawthorne football.”
The Hornets, ranked No. 2 in Tuesday’s MaxPrep Class 1R poll, will not play this Friday before facing 1R third-ranked Union County (3-1) in Lake Butler on Friday, Oct. 14. It will give some key players time to heal as star defensive end Jailen Ruth sat out his second contest with a knee sprain and C.J. played through an ankle injury.
“We’re traveling to Union County for some good 1A football,” Ingram said. “I can’t even imagine the crowd atmosphere, but it’s what we work for.”