High School Sports

Experience paying off for Hawkinsville

Hawkinsville is in the midst of the best two-year run in program history since claiming back-to-back state championships in 2004 and 2005. The Red Devils, who are 11-1, have a chance to avenge their only loss of the season Friday when they travel to Marion County in the Class A public school semifinals.

“We had three goals coming into the season,” Hawkinsville head coach David Daniell said. “We wanted to win our non-region games, which are our rival games, win the region and win a state title. We fell one game short of winning the region, but we can still realize our goal of a state championship.”

Hawkinsville, in the semifinals for the second year in a row, didn’t arrive in the classification’s elite by accident. It is the culmination of a massive senior class of 18 players, 13 of which line up at starting positions for the Red Devils. Hawkinsville’s senior class alone accounts for roughly a third of its listed roster, giving the Red Devils scores of players experienced in the crunch time of big games, contests that have coincided with the upswing of a Hawkinsville program with five state championships to its credit.

The past two seasons have marked the Red Devils’ first back-to-back trips past the first round of the playoffs since 2005 and 2006. That recent run of success includes a six-game winning streak a year ago that also encompassed a quarterfinal win at traditional powerhouse Clinch County before a semifinal loss to Marion County ended the Red Devils’ season at 9-4.

Hawkinsville picked up where it left off this season. Its one loss came to Marion County by a score of 13-6.

“From the start of the offseason, the goal has always been to get further than we did last year,” Daniell said.

For many teams in Class A, it’s expected for players to play on both sides of the ball due to smaller numbers of players to use. The amount of players on rosters makes doing so a necessity in most cases. But with so many experienced players in key positions, the Red Devils can afford to not play quite as many players both ways.

That luxury is not lost in the mind of Daniell.

“Having that, it has played a huge role for us,” Daniell said. “The number of seniors we have is a lot for Class A.”

One area that Hawkinsville’s strength in numbers has paid off is on the defensive side of the ball with nine starters being seniors. The Red Devils have played at a level that has been formidable for opposing offenses to overcome. Through 12 games, Hawkinsville has shut out two teams, held eight to eight points or fewer and has also not allowed any opponent to score more than 14 points.

Hawkinsville’s average of 6.9 points allowed through 12 games currently ranks as the ninth best mark in the program history and best for any Red Devils defense since 1964, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Web site.

Defensive efforts like that have enabled the Red Devils to take more offensive chances. In last week’s quarterfinal win against Charlton County, Hawkinsville, then leading 6-0 late in the game, opted to go for a fourth down instead of kicking a short field goal largely due to Daniell’s trust in his defense to hold down the opposition.

“When our defense is playing like that, we’re very confident going for it on fourth down,” Daniell said.