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The Millbrook Independent

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Sep 02nd
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Edgewood survives a great football battle, wins another state title
Written by News Desk   
Monday, 25 November 2013 15:05

11-28eapreviewEdgewood's Taylor Hawthorne quarterback became a wide receiver early in the first quarter. Hawthorne leaped high to catch a pass from Josh Crawford to score the Wildcats first down.

Photo: Art Parker

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It was like a heavyweight fight, where both boxers deliver knockout blows, but neither one will yield and both return to their feet. The battle doesn't stop until the last possible moment and one prevails over the other. That was the case last Friday afternoon at Veterans Stadium at Troy University when the Edgewood Academy Wildcats outfought and outlasted an ultra-tough Clarke Prep Academy Gators team 61-52. Edgewood ended the season undefeated at 14-0, and the state championship game was the seventh time the Wildcats were forced to come from behind to win in 2013.

Edgewood set a new Alabama Independent School Association (AISA) record by notching its 45th consecutive victory. The Wildcats won their fourth consecutive state championship and their fifth in six years. None of this was easy especially last Friday's game, which was the toughest assignment the 'Cats ever had. "They are a well disciplined and well coached team. We've played some good teams but they are the most disciplined and determined," Edgewood senior Trey Gothard said afterwards of Clarke Prep. "They deserve a lot of credit and they are very, very good."

Edgewood never had the lead until the third quarter was down to its last 6 seconds. And from that point, the Wildcats outlasted the Gators.

The first half was not good for the Wildcats. They lost the battle of the line of scrimmage and surrendered 300 yards and almost all of that was on the ground. Early last week Edgewood head coach Bobby Carr said, "Clarke runs the ball very, very well." Carr was right. The Gators scored the first five times they had the ball and, other than completing a couple of pass plays, ran the ball right down the throats of Edgewood. Clarke scored on drives of 61, 73, 55, 71 and 31 yards.

The Wildcats stayed in the game because of their potent offense and scored the first three times they had the ball on drives of 60, 57, and 54 yards. The first touchdown came when quarterback Taylor Hawthorne went to wide receiver and running back Josh Crawford took the snap. The lob pass was caught by the tall, leaping Hawthorne in the end zone. "That's a great play for us and it works often," Crawford said. "Of course sometimes we use it as a decoy." Hawthorne scrambled and connected with Heath Young for a 54 yard touchdown pass for the second touchdown.

Edgewood's third score came after Jackson Tate, who ran the ball well all day, made an unbelievable catch for a 41 yard gain. That play kept the drive alive. Moments later Crawford, in the decoy position at quarterback with Hawthorne as a wideout, scrambled and passed to Young from the 18 yard line for the score. The Wildcats fumbled on their fourth possession, which led to a Gators score, but came back to score on a drive of 65 yards with just 23 seconds remaining in the first half when Crawford scored from the 2 yard line.

11-28eacrawfordEdgewood's Josh Crawford (22) dives for the goal line to score another touchdown.

Photo: Anita Barnes

The last Edgewood score of the first half was critical since the Wildcats hit the locker room trailing by 10 points, 38-28.

At halftime the Wildcats made changes. But most of all it was the speech. "He inspired us and got us up for the second half and we believed in ourselves. It was a great speech," junior David Caton said. The adjustments were to a blitz pattern and doing some stunts on defense, with the intention of slowing down the running game of the Gators. The adjustments didn't stop the Gators, but it sure slowed them down and allowed for the Edgewood offense to tack more on to the scoreboard.

Carr's customary trickery showed its head in the second half when Crawford pitched out to Hawthorne, who promptly turned around and passed back to Crawford downfield who completed the 44 yard touchdown play. The Wildcats were within 4 points but Clarke scored just a couple of plays later to re-establish the 10 point lead.

The Wildcats turned the ball over on downs in their own territory and just when things looked to be as bleak and dim as possible for Edgewood, everything changed with a gigantic momentum swing. Clarke, on a first and 10 from the Edgewood 25 yard line, fumbled. Gothard stripped the Gators' running back of the ball and Caton scooped up the loose pigskin and began to serpentine his way, behind and between blockers, for an exhausting 82 yard touchdown run at 2:54 in the third quarter. "I saw the opportunity to run with it and knew the guys would be there throwing blocks for me. They did a great job and the next thing I knew I was in the end zone," Caton said of the play. Although Edgewood still trailed 44-40 the momentum shift could be felt...but the shift was not over.

On the ensuing kickoff Edgewood executed the onsides kick, a unique flavor of the kicker bumping the ball into a dribble and the team quickly surrounding the ball to protect it from the receiving team until it travels the required 10 yards. Daniel Green pounced on the ball when it hit the 50 yard line and the 'Cats were back in business.

In a space of 4 seconds Edgewood scored with its defense and then sent its offense on to the field. Just 7 plays later Hawthorne hit Green with a touchdown pass from the 10 yard line. Alex Dettmar's point after touchdown made the score 47-44 and with only 6 seconds remaining in the third quarter Edgewood finally had the lead.

11-28eajohnsonThe top Edgewood enforcer, Keith Johnson (5) grabs a Clarke running back and stops a potentially successful sweep in the fourth quarter.

Photo: Anita Barnes

The momentum stayed with the Wildcats as Clarke fumbled on the first play of the fourth quarter and Keith Johnson recovered for the Wildcats at the Clarke 29 yard line. A few plays later Crawford dashed into the end zone and Dettmar booted the extra point to extend the Wildcats lead to 54-44.

Clarke was not finished and showed great determination by marching 58 yards to score, and converted a 2 –point effort at 3:49 left in the game. At 54-52 Clarke attempted an onsides kick but Edgewood easily covered the loose ball.

The Wildcats picked up one first down and then were faced with a fourth and 10 from the Clarke 21 yard line. The Gators were out of timeouts and a first down would enable the Wildcats to easily run the clock out. But, in accordance with a gut wrenching script written by the football gods, Clarke stopped Edgewood cold and with 1:41 seconds remaining, the Gators still had a chance.

The last thing Edgewood needed was for Clarke to consume the time remaining and score, leaving the Wildcats behind with no time. On second and 2 from the Gators 29 yard line the last piece of the Edgewood championship puzzle was made to fit. Clarke's quarterback, under pressure and scrambling, threw to a well-covered receiver, who could only touch the ball with his fingertips. The pigskin, floating in air, was picked off by Hawthorne, who dashed untouched into the Clarke end zone, effectively stopping the proceedings at 61-52. Hawthorne, the senior quarterback and occasional receiver, has enjoyed countless moments on offense in his four years at Edgewood. But the biggest play of his life came on defense. "I never thought this would happen, but yeah, it's the biggest play for me ever. I could see it coming and was trying to get in position to help with the tackle and then it was tipped just a little to hang up there and fall into my arms," Hawthorne described. "I didn't see anything in front of me but the end zone."

But what of the speech that all the Wildcats talked about after the game? When Carr was asked about his remarks he said: "I told them we had come from behind all year. Tonight was the perfect opportunity for them to show their character and their championship caliber. I told them to go throw their heart into the game and go win another." Carr went on to say this group of players was very special because "they are very young, had little experience other than a few players, and they won it. That's what means the most to me...to see so many that are supposed to be average work hard and come back to do extraordinary things. It makes coaching all worthwhile."

The Wildcats' roster, with many freshmen and sophomores, will only lose a few starters to graduation. One of those returning will be Jake Sisson, who exemplified the Edgewood character and determination. Sisson is not a big player, only about 5'8" and 170 pounds. In the second half Sisson lined up at nose guard and his mission was to help clog up the line. The only problem was that the Clarke center was 6'2 and weighed a touch over 300 pounds. But it was Sisson that got the better of the battle with relentless effort and a will to win. His quickness was more powerful than a mountain of weight.

As for one of those seniors, Hawthorne, who has won a state championship every year he has played high school football, the moment could not be sweeter. "Only one loss for me at Edgewood in four years. I feel fortunate, so lucky, for this to happen. It has been a dream come true, but tonight, especially the last minute or two, will be the memory that will last forever. That's when I knew we won it. It was that tough of a game," the senior said.

Carr, now has won 5 football championships. When asked what he will do with the fifth ring, Carr responded, "I don't know. I guess I'm a lucky guy. Lucky enough to get one for the thumb."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 November 2013 16:38
 
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