Special to the Times
J.D. Burden ran rampant Friday night in Homerville, and the battle of Wing-T offenses went the way of Hawkinsville, as the Red Devils (9-3) dominated possession to knock off Clinch County (8-4) 23-8 and clinch a berth in the single-A semifinals.
Burden amassed 198 yards rushing in the game for the Red Devils, 184 of which came in a monster first-half performance, to help Hawkinsville get out to a quick start early against Clinch County.
Hawkinsville got on the board early when the first of many bad snaps from Clinch County went awry and ended up rolling out of the back of the end zone for a safety. On the Red Devils’ following drive, Hawkinsville senior quarterback Dakota Sloan scored on a three yard quarterback sneak to put his team up 9-0. Seven minutes later, Burden got his night rolling with a seven yard plunge to push the Red Devils even further ahead.
Trailing 16-0 just midway through the second quarter, it was simply too difficult for Clinch County to generate offense. With such a ground-based offense, the Panthers were forced to throw the ball much more than they would’ve liked, and those passes were simply not effective.
Clinch County quarterback Octavius Johnson finished the game completing only 5 of 12 passes for 24 yards. Johnson was the Panthers’ leading rusher as well, rushing for 115 yards on seven carries and adding a touchdown.
Clinch cut the Hawkinsville lead to 16-8 minutes before halftime, but on the following drive, Red Devils running back J.D. Burden delivered the play of the night. Burden, who played B-back for almost every snap, received the handoff from Sloan and broke six tackles and eluded several more Clinch defenders on his way to reaching the end zone. The run pushed the lead to 23-8 at the half, and Hawkinsville simply did not relinquish the lead, or their momentum, for the rest of the night.
In the second half, Hawkinsville executed their offense to perfection, converted on several third downs and draining the clock on their way to advancing to face Marion County next Friday night.
Clinch will wonder what the final outcome would have been if they would have played mistake-free football; however, the Panthers lost the turnover battle 3-0, with all of their turnovers coming courtesy of bad snaps. Clinch also had several costly holding penalties and a personal foul that pushed the Panthers deep into their own territory and killed a drive.
The Panthers ended the game with 214 total yards of offense, 190 of which came on the ground. Seniors Billy Kelsaw and James Core contributed 47 and 24 rushing yards, respectively, in the losing effort.
Hawkinsville only attempted one pass all night, a completion in the first half, as the Red Devils simply did not need to throw the ball. Offensively, the Red Devils line dominated the line of scrimmage, making it easy for Burden and company to churn out large chunks of yardage on the ground. Hawkinsville ended the game with 302 total yards, with all but Sloan’s 24-yard completion to Royce Owens coming on the ground.
In a battle of two teams who play virtually the same brand of football, penalties and turnovers are likely to be the difference and Friday night’s game between the Panthers and Red Devils was no different. Clinch gathered more penalty yards, more turnovers, and simply more mental errors in their losing effort.
As a result, Hawkinsville will advance to the state Final Four next Friday night.