The third time was in fact the charm for the Hawthorne football team.
The Hornets’ defense kept Northview out of the end zone and senior Brian James’ 5-yard touchdown run on the opening drive proved to be the difference in a 13-2 win in the Class 1R state championship game at Gene Cox Stadium in Tallahassee on Saturday night.
“We knew what it was going to take to make it back here,” said Georgia State commit Stanley Cooks, who was a Mainstreet Daily News All Area selection on both the offensive and defensive line last year. “We came back with a chip on our shoulders. This was my last year and my team bought in with me, we came together, and we’re champions baby.”
It was the first state title for Alachua County since Santa Fe won the 4A state title in 1994.
“These kids have been through a lot and I’m just happy for these kids to finally get one for Hawthorne,” said Hawthorne coach Cornelius Ingram.
After two straight Class 1A runner-up finishes the Hornets (12-0) ran the table to win their first state football title in school history.
“Man, this is amazing,” said Hawthorne senior Darian Smith-Williams, who rushed for 47 yards on only six carries and led the team with seven solo tackles. “This is what we came here for. I’m happy to be a champion.”
Quarterback CJ Ingram and defensive end Jailen Ruth didn’t practice all week due to injury, but both played and contributed to the win.
“We knew we couldn’t get a whole lot from CJ running, he wouldn’t be able to push off throwing, but his presence alone just lights up our locker room, and Jailen has that same vibe,” Ingram said.
Hawthorne set the tone on their opening possession.
The Hornets received the opening kick and marched 64 yards on nine plays, capping the drive with a 5-yard scoring run by James with 8:05 to play in the first quarter. Despite a missed extra point, the Hornets led 6-0 just four minutes in.
“It was big,” Ingram said. “My brother (offensive coordinator Greg Bowie) did a great job. We were moving. We had different formations, we rotated different running backs, it was a sweet drive. I think we needed that because that really calmed our team down.”
James, who had 45 yards on seven carries on their first possession, finished the game with 88 yards on 18 carries.
Hawthorne did catch a break on their next possession, following a 3-and-out by Northview, when Chiefs’ cornerback Wyatt Scruggs dropped an interception at the Northview 43-yard line.
However, Northview’s drive stalled and the Hornets took over at their own 22-yard line.
The Chiefs (13-1) got on the scoreboard with :17 to play in the first quarter when a high snap over the head of Ga’mon Randall, who was lined up in the wildcat, was recovered by Randall in the end zone for a safety.
Following the kick, Northview began its next drive at its own 43-yard line and began a time-consuming, 12-play drive that ended on a 4th-and-2 at the 6-yard line.
Northview running back Jamarkus Jefferson, who entered the game with 2,345 yards rushing and 41 touchdowns, was stopped a yard short of the first down and Hawthorne took over on downs.
He finished the game with just 35 yards on 14 carries.
“Great performance,” Ingram said of the defense, which held the Chiefs to just 218 yards of total offense. “I’m not surprised by our defense. I’m not surprised by this win because we worked really hard to get here and I’m proud of my guys.”
It would be as close as Northview would come to finding the end zone.
“The key was to stop the run,” said Ruth, who finished with seven tackles and a half a sack. “We knew if we could dominate up front with our defensive line we would win the game.”
Meanwhile, the Hornets ran for 218 yards behind a punishing offensive line and controlled the game clock, which is Hawthorne’s forte.
Sophomore Zion Johnson made one of the biggest plays of the game midway through the third quarter.
With Northview at their own 45-yard line and trailing 6-2, Johnson intercepted quarterback Kaden Odom and returned it the 1-yard line.
“(Defensive coordinator) Coach Adkins told me it was coming,” said Johnson, who received an offer to Florida A&M after the game. “He was telling us to switch and make sure we communicated on that play. He already knew it was coming. He just put me in a position to make a good play.”
Ingram snuck it in on the next play. Sophomore Sam Caroll’s extra point gave the Hornets a 13-2 lead with 5:26 to play in the quarter.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to win in this type of environment for the city of Hawthorne and especially winning one with my dad,” CJ Ingram said.
From there the Hornets’ offensive line took over.
“They (OL) were big,” Coach Ingram said. “They opened up holes for everyone who ran the ball. We felt like we started to wear them out some so we were going to keep the ball on the ground.”
Hawthorne had the ball for 8:31 in the fourth quarter, but they were aided by a key penalty.
Facing a 4th-and-5 at their own 32-yard line, Northview jumped offsides as the Hornets were set to punt.
The penalty gave the Hornets a first down with 6:36 to play. Hawthorne proceeded to eat five more minutes off the clock before Northview got the ball back with 1:14 to play.
“To win the way we’ve been winning all year, some of the personal issues that these kids have overcome, the football game is the fun part and the easy part for them, and this is their outlet,” Ingram said.