HAWTHORNE — Tyler Jefferson ran for two touchdowns, and Anthony Morgan had three turnovers, including an interception returned for a score, as Hawthorne High defeated Chipley 24-6 Friday night to return to the Class 1A football state championship for a second consecutive year.
The Hornets (10-0) were pushed for one half by their visitors from Northwest Florida, but separated in the second behind their offensive line and the bullish running of Jefferson, their quarterback. Hawthorne will play Madison County (10-3) at Gene Cox Stadium in Tallahassee next Saturday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. for its first state championship.
Buchholz football: St. Thomas Aquinas ends Bobcats' special season
“We’ve talked about this and worked for this all season long,” said Jefferson. “To get here and be able to do it, we’re very excited about it.”
“It’s awesome,” said Morgan. “I was here last year, and it feels great to come back and do it again.”
The Hornets’ return to the state final started with Morgan’s return late in the first quarter. Scoreless nearly 10 minutes into the game, the senior recognized a Tigers’ pass play and jumped into the path of the ball, intercepting a short screen and running it back 65 yards for a 6-0 lead.
But if there was any thought Hawthorne would follow Morgan and run away from its opponent, the Tigers quashed that on their ensuing drive. On 4th-and-10 on the Hornets’ 20, Chipley threw to the sideline, where junior Antonio Lewis made a spectacular one-handed catch, fully outstretched while falling out of bounds. Three run plays later, the Tigers hauled it in to square the game at 6-6.
Before halftime hit, Hawthorne brushed it off and calmly responded.
“This is a special group,” Hornets coach Cornelius Ingram said. “Their confidence never waivers.”
The Hornets marched 80 yards in 14 plays, nine of them quarterback keepers by Jefferson, who used his power and bulky frame to plow for extra yards after contact all night long. On 1st-and-10 from Chipley’s 30, Jefferson took off up the middle and was on his way to a big gain when he lost control of the ball and it hit the turf. Morgan was the man of the moment again, eyeing the loose ball and jumping on it, recovering and keeping the late first-half drive alive for Hawthorne. Less than two minutes later, Jefferson rumbled across the goal line, moving the score to 12-6. It would stay at that margin into halftime.
The second half picked up right where the first ended. Hawthorne received the kick, and 11 run plays later, Jefferson crossed the goal line again from one yard out. The Hornets ran seven consecutive run plays for Jefferson, the last one putting them up 18-6.
“We knew coming in we wanted to establish the run and our offensive line helped me out with that,” Jefferson said. “They’ve played great these past few weeks.”
“They’re the most important part of the offense,” Ingram added. “We can use any one of our quarterbacks back there because of them, and we’re able to run the ball with no worries.”
Senior Brian James tacked on a fourth-quarter score with a six-yard run that made it 24-6. Hawthorne forced two more turnovers for good measure down the stretch, a fumble recovery from junior Jailen Ruth, and the second being Morgan’s second pick of the night.
“Everything happened the way it did just from being disciplined and listening to my coaches,” said Morgan. “I get challenged by my coaches a lot.”
“He’s a receiver who’s so unselfish, he’ll go and play defense for us,” said Ingram. “He goes about his business the right way every day, and tonight he makes big plays in the most important game of the season.”
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: High school football playoffs: Hawthorne returns to Class 1A title game