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Hawthorne vies for first state football title

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By Marty Pallman
Twitter – @mpallman

In what has been a championship year already in Hawthorne, the school has it’s sights set on one more huge prize.

That’s the 1A state football championship.

The Hornets (10-2) play for their first state football championship on Thursday night against the Baker Gators at Doak Campbell Stadium In Tallahassee, home of the Florida State University Seminoles.

For Hawthorne head coach Cornelius Ingram, it’s a matter of community pride. Ingram was a All-State athlete for the Hornets in both football and basketball who graduated in 2004 and then won two national championships as a wide receiver at the University of Florida before spending time in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles.

He returned to coach his alma mater in 2015, leading the Hornets to a 12-0 mark and the state semifinals in 2018. Hawthorne lost that game 24-0 at Madison County.

Ingram also has coached the girls basketball team for the past four seasons, and guided that Hornets to their first state title as well last winter. His older brother, Greg Bowie, also led the Hawthorne boys team to their first state championship since 1987 a week after the girls won their state title.

And now he has a chance for a rare double as a coach.

On December 4, Hawthorne got it’s revenge against three-time defending 1A state champion Madison County, knocking off the Cowboys 18-14 to advance to the first football state championship game in school history.

Hawthorne is a team guided by it’s defense. In four postseason wins over Chiefland, Fort Meade, Wildwood, and Madison County the Hornets defense allowed only 29 points.

Sophomore Jailen Ruth has put up eye-popping numbers, with 122 tackles, including 27 for loss and 13 sacks. Senior DB Rolaundus Watson adds 97 tackles including 10 for loss and 3 sacks and senior linebacker Chauncey McFadden added six sacks.

Senior Thurman Mills also chipped in with 62 tackles, including nine for loss and an interception that wrapped up the win over Madison County.

Senior Samuel Driver scooped up a fumble and returned it for the winning score in the win that sent the Hornets to their first state championship game appearance.

The Hawthorne defense will face another stiff test against an extremely potent Baker rushing attack. The Gators (13-0) rushed for a state-leading 4,947 yards in 2020, averaging 353.4 yards a game and 8.7 per carry and 59 touchdowns on the ground.

Coach Matt Brunson’s Baker rushing attack is led by his son, senior Joe Brunson, who put up an almost ridiculous 2,460 rushing yards on 320 carries, averaging 7.7 yards a carry and 189.2 yards a game with 27 touchdowns on the ground.

Sophomore Kayleb Wagner helped the 1-2 punch with 1,251 yards as well, with 10.6 a carry, 104.3 yards a game and 16 touchdowns rushing.

Baker only threw for 489 yards this season, so Hawthorne’s defense should know what to key on Thursday night. The Hornets have faced similar offenses in Union County, Newberry, and Madison County, so that may help the Hornets get ready for this challenge.

Offensively Hawthorne is a little more balanced as junior quarterback Chaz Mackey has thrown for 1,282 yards with 15 TD’s and 8 interceptions.

Mackey threw for 150 yards and a touchdown against Madison County, as the Hornets opened up the offense a bit more with running back Dre Lawrence struggling against the Cowboys defensive front with only 15 yards rushing.

Lawrence has rushed for 944 yards and 14 touchdowns while sophomore Brian James has added 354 yards on the ground and six scores.

Senior Johnquavis Jones is suspended for the state championship game after throwing a punch/football at a Madison County player, and this is a big loss for the Hornets as he ran for four touchdowns and caught another five TD’s this season.

Junior wide receiver Anthony Morgan is the Hornets leading receiver with 34 catches for 430 yards and 3 scores. Junior Camrin Cohens adds four TD’s receiving as well on 15 receptions.

Baker’s defense has allowed points at times, but has been able to score enough to get by, as seen by their 26-25 win over Sneads during the regular season. The Gators rolled past Sneads in a rematch in the state semifinals 41-7.

Baker is playing in their third state championship game in the past five seasons.

The Gators lost to Madison County in 2018 and Pahokee in 2016 although the Blue Devils had to forfeit the win that year due to an ineligible player.

Baker hasn’t won an official state title since 1993, when Brunson, who like Ingram is an alum of the school he coaches, was the defensive coordinator at Baker.

The game will be broadcast on 106.9 FM “I am Country” beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday night.

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