That feeling was clearly evident as the John F. Kennedy Hornets hosted the Hamilton High School Lions in the first round of the 1A State Playoff here Friday night at C.V. Thurmond Field.
Both teams locked horns in a battle their went down to the wire, but when the final play conclude the Lions escaped Mound Bayou with a 27-26 victory to advance past to second round of the playoffs. The Lions, now 9-3, will host St. Aloysius in Hamilton in the second round, while the Hornets ended its season at 8-4. Hamilton will be playing in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1986.
The Lions did a good job of controlling the football, as they ran 57 plays for 328 yards to the Hornets’ 45 plays for 300 yards.
In the first half, Hamilton ran almost twice as many plays on offense as JFK with the Lions running 35 plays and the Hornets only 22 plays.
Hamilton head coach Ray Weeks, a native of Ruleville who graduated high school at North Sunflower in 1982 and was an assistant football coach on the Bayou Academy football team that won the AA State Football Championship, said the main goal was to keep it out of the hands of the Hornets' offense.
“We knew we were going to have to because of the weapons that they have,” Weeks, whose in his 10th season at Hamilton, said. “When you give a team like that a lot of snaps, they’re going to make plays. That was one of our things coming in. We made a few offensive chances, and it worked out for us. We made some plays and it worked out well. We beat a great football team, and it’s huge for our program. I’m proud of my guys.”
Despite the Lions’ good game plan on offense, the Hornets weren’t going down without a fight. Down 27-12 in the third quarter, JFK kept fighting through out the game. The Hornets moved the ball much better in the second half with Ladaris Johnson and Xavier Roberts making some good runs. With 2:52 left in the third, Johnson marched on a nine-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion was no good, but JFK cut Hamilton’s lead to 27-18.
After the Hornets’ defense forced the Lions to punt the ball, the Hornets were pinned down at their own 9-yard line. After getting the first down to get the ball at its own 20-yard line, JFK’s offense came up big again as Johnson was able to connect with Octavius Taylor on a pass play. Taylor, who finished second in the 1A State Cross County Meet last week, showed his speed as he was able to leave Hamilton’s defense in the dust on a play that resulted in a 80-yard touchdown reception. Roberts scored the two point conversion and the Hornets cut the Lions’ lead down to 27-26 with 6:50 left in the contest.
Toward the end of the game, turnovers proved to be the downfall for the Hornets. Quishay Heard intercepted a pass from Johnson and Dominique Dobbs recovered a fumble with less than a minute and a half remaining to preserve the win for the Lions.
In the first quarter, the Hornets came out looking good as Roberts intercepted a pass from Lions’ quarterback Byron Butler, who returned it down to Hamilton’s 41-yard line. On JFK’s first possession on offense, Johnson handed the ball off to Carnez Gant two straight times. On Gant’s second carry, he marched along the Hornets’ sideline on a 38-yard run for a touchdown. The two-point conversion was no good, but JFK led 6-0 with 9:49 left in the first. On the play, Gant was limping with a leg injury and had to sit out a huge chunk of the first half.
When the Lions got the ball back for their second possession of the game, their offense found a groove. Butler completed a pass to Quishay Heard for 36 yards. After Heard marched on a 13-yard run, Keshon Heard hit the end zone on a 16-yard run with 8:49 still left in the first. The PAT attempt was no good as the score was tied 6-6.
The Lions gained even more momentum as they recovered a short kick to gain possession again at the JFK 38-yard line. The Lions were able to get into the red zone again and with 5:37 left in the game, Pallas Fain marched on a two-yard touchdown run. The extra point kick from Maxi Garcette was good, and the Lions led 13-6 with 5:37 still left in the first quarter. The score remained 13-6 when the game rolled into the second quarter. Through the entire first half, Hamilton showed plenty of balance on offense by running and throwing the ball effectively.
The Lions were able to add to their lead with 8:01 left in the game as Dobbs galloped on a one-yard TD run. The kick from Garcette was good, and the Lions inflated their lead to 20-6.
The Hornets’ defense stepped up toward the end of the half. JFK’s Trevelle Paris was able to recover a fumble to give the Hornets possession at the Hamilton 47-yard line. JFK’s was able to cut into Hamilton’s lead as Johnson hit the end zone on a 25-yard run. The two point conversion was no good, but JFK shaved Hamilton’s lead down to eight points at 20-12 with 4:20 remaining in the first half.
JFK was able to keep the momentum in its favor going into halftime as Paris recovered his second fumble of the game. The Hornets were able to run the clock out and trail by only eight points at 20-12 going into the lockerroom at halftime.
The Hornets got the ball first in the second half and were not able to score on their first possession. The Lions were able to find success on their first possession of the second half as Quishay Heard ran on a 32-yard TD run with 5:32 left in the third. The kick from Garcette was good, and Hamilton stretched its lead to 27-12. The lead ended up being too much for JFK to overcome.
“Hamilton did a real good job of playing offense and defense,” John F. Kennedy head coach Sheldon Hodge said. “Early in the game when Gant went out it hurt us quite a bit. We had several backs injured, and we ended up going to our third tailback. At that point, we were forced to throw the ball. Hamilton did a real good job of defending the pass. We needed to do a better job of controlling the ball and just weren’t able to get it done tonight.”
For Hamilton, Butler completed 9-of-15 passes for 160 yards with an interception, and Quinshay Heard ran for 82 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and caught six passes for 134 yards to lead the Lions’ offense, followed by Fain with 61 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 carries and Keshon Heard with 10 carries for 38 yards and a touchdown.
For JFK, Johnson completed 4-of-13 passes for 125 yards with a touchdown and an interception and rushed for 55 yards on 11 carries with two touchdowns to lead Hornets, followed by Taylor with a 80-yard TD reception, Roberts with 60 rushing yards and a two-point conversion on 13 carries and Gant with 50 yards and a touchdown on four carries.
On defense for JFK, Paris finished with two fumble recoveries, Roberts intercepted a pass and Dwayne Hall recorded a sack for a big loss of yardage in the second half.