ATLANTA -- Hawkinsville’s second-half kickoff was right on the money.
Matthew Money, with help from Keshun Wright, tackled Irwin County return man Cartavion Benyard in the end zone after Benyard retreated from his own 3, recording a safety that set the tone for the Red Devils’ 15-6 GHSA Class A public school championship victory at the Georgia Dome.
“This was my first time ever here in the Dome,” said Money, a junior offensive lineman/linebacker. “I’m just excited and astounded. I’m happy to be here.”
Hawkinsville (13-1) won its first state title in 10 years despite recording just four first downs the entire game. It also became the first Middle Georgia team in five years to win it all.
Warren Singletary Jr. scored two touchdowns and came up with a key fourth-quarter fumble recovery to help seal the victory.
“We were looking for the big moments of the game,” said Singletary, a senior. “And that was a big play by Matthew Money.”
With the game tied at 6 following a first half low on offensive production, Hawkinsville head coach David Daniell, a former assistant under Robert Davis at Westside, was looking for his team to come up with the right play at the right time coming out of the halftime break.
The right time came about right away. Irwin County (11-2-1) misjudged the second-half kickoff, setting up the game’s key play.
After the ball rolled on the ground for several yards, Benyard picked up the ball at his own 3. He ran back into the end zone in order to find an open lane, but he encountered Money and Wright, and Money stopped him cold behind the goal line.
“It was pretty crazy,” said Money, a junior offensive lineman/linebacker. “I just wanted to go down there and make a big play. I tried to help my team the best I could.
“I ran to it as hard as I could, and I just made the tackle.”
The miscue on the second-half kickoff wasn’t the only special teams play to come back and haunt Irwin County. Botched punt snaps led to both of Singletary’s touchdown runs.
The first bad snap, late in the second quarter, led to a blocked punt that was recovered at the Irwin County 5. Singletary punched it in on fourth-and-3.
The second bad snap, which capped Irwin County’s first full possession of the second half, was much more costly.
Irwin County had the ball at the Hawkinsville 43. But the snap, just like the first botched snap, sailed over the punter’s head. The ball was smothered at the Irwin County 23, and it took five plays -- including a 16-yard pass from Dakota Sloan to Hilliard Wright on fourth down -- for Hawkinsville to find the end zone on Singletary’s 1-yard run.
“I talked to the kids about turnovers and making sure we didn’t have any,” Daniell said. “We had a couple, and they had a couple. But turnovers ended up being the difference in the ballgame.”
The teams combined for eight fumbles, with six going for turnovers. Hawkinsville’s Cal George also had a 33-yard interception return.
Irwin County’s lone score came on a 13-yard run by Jakyron Young in the first quarter that followed a Hawkinsville fumble.
HAWKINSVILLE 15, IRWIN COUNTY 6
Irwin County 6-0-0-0--6
IC -- Jakyron Young 13 run (kick blocked)
H -- Warren Singletary Jr. 3 run (kick failed)
H -- Safety, Cartavion Benyard tackled in end zone by Matthew Money and Keshun Wright
H -- Singletary 1 run (Tyler Brown kick)
First downs 14 4
Rushes-yards 49-139 46-72
Passing yards 27 23
Comp-Att-Int 5-8-1 2-5-0
Fumbles-Fumbles lost 5-3 3-3
RUSHING -- Irwin County: Young 13-72, Robert Moore 16-61, DJ Pollard 4-37; Hawkinsville: Reginald McDonald 16-42, Mark Holliman 8-22.
PASSING -- Irwin County: Zach Tolar 5-8-1 27; Hawkinsville: Dakota Sloan 2-5-0 23.
RECEIVING -- Irwin County: Bernard Pitts 4-21; Hawkinsville: Hilliard Wright 1-16.