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On to Orlando: Cowboys eliminate Hornets

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

What was expected to be a game featuring a great deal of offensive fireworks on Friday, Nov. 30, turned into a game that would be won in the trenches on both sides of the ball. That battle was won by  Madison County High School (MCHS) as the Cowboys punched their ticket to Orlando with a 24-0 victory over the Hornets of Hawthorne High School.

Coming into the game, the undefeated Hornets of Hawthorne High School could rightly boast of having one of the most potent aerial attacks in the state. The Hornets were averaging over 50 points per game coming into Fridays' state semi-final game. The Hornets averaged 385 yards per game of offense, the Cowboys averaged 396 yards per game, mostly with a strong rushing attack. Considering this, it may have come as a bit of a surprise that the game turned into a defensive contest.

The game began with the Cowboys going three-and-out on their first offensive drive. The Hornets took over at the 30-yard line and began to move the ball down the field. The Hawthorne drive was brought to a halt, thanks to a big quarterback sack by Pat Hampton. The Cowboys took over again at their own 15-yard line. The penalty-laden first period ended with both teams scoreless.

In the early moments of the second quarter, the Cowboys' drive stalled at the 33-yard line. The Hornets began their next drive at their own 20-yard line. The drive was cut short by an interception by Vinsonta Allen that put the Cowboys' offense back on the field at the Hornets' 35-yard line. The Cowboys quickly moved toward the goal line and the deadlock was broken when Allen punched the ball over the goal line. Thomas Miller's point-after-touchdown (PAT) was good and the Cowboys held a 7-0 lead with 5:29 remaining in the first half. The Hornets attempted to respond, but the Cowboys' defense again held firm and the Cowboys took over at midfield late in the second quarter. The half ended with the Cowboys ahead, 7-0.

The second half began with the Hornets taking the ball at the 25-yard line. The stingy Cowboys' defense held the Hornets to a three-and-out and the Cowboys had the ball again at the 44-yard line. The Cowboys moved the ball deeper into the Hornets' end of the field and had first-and-goal at the seven-yard line. The Cowboys were unable to punch the ball over and Miller was called upon to attempt a 25-yard field goal. Miller's kick split the uprights, giving the Cowboys a 10-0 advantage with 4:57 remaining in the third quarter. Ball possession went back and forth and the third period ended with the score at 10-0, but with the Hornets making a scoring threat. That scoring threat ended when a Cowboy defender and the Hornet receiver jumped for a deep pass. The Cowboy disrupted the pass and the ball found its way into the waiting hands of Cowboy defensive back Chalon Howard, who ran the ball back to the Cowboys' 37-yard line. "I just looked and the ball was right there at my hands," said Howard after the game. "I just grabbed the ball and started running." The Cowboys quickly took advantage when Marcus Ghent raced down the field on a 52-yard touchdown run. This electrifying run brought everyone to their feet, including Boot Hill public address announcer Rod Irvine, who broke into his own "touchdown dance." Miller's PAT was good and the Cowboys held a 17-0 edge over the Hornets with just over nine minutes left in the contest. The Hornets were still fighting hard, but on a fourth-and-long, the Cowboys' defense stiffened and stopped the Hornets, causing a turnover on downs. The Cowboys offensive line were imposing their will on the Hornets' withering defensive front, resulting in big running plays by Travis Jay and company. Then Robert Hiers plowed his way into the end-zone, prompting another "touchdown dance" by Irvine. Another perfect PAT by Miller made the score 24-0 with 2:45 remaining in the game. The Hornets' last gasp ended when Jay intercepted a pass in the end-zone, allowing the Cowboys to run the clock out and make way for back-to-back trips to Orlando to play for another state title.

The Cowboys will now face the Gators of Baker High School for the Class 1A State Championship. The Gators have a very strong running game, led by 5' 10", 194 lb senior running back Junior McLaughlin. McLaughlin has averaged 238 yards per game on the ground this season with 36 rushing touchdowns to his credit. The Cowboys' defense will have to play another stellar game if they are to win another state title.

The game will take place on Thursday, Dec. 6, at Camping World Stadium, in Orlando. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Those unable to attend the game can hear play-by-play on radio station Talk 105.7 FM, or online at talk1057.com. Information about the live webcast pay-per-view can be found at www.fhsaa.org/sports/football.

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