HAWKINSVILLE --- After surging up the Class A public school power rankings at the end of the season with five wins in their last six games, the Mitchell County Eagles saw their season come to an end Friday in the opening round of the playoffs.
No. 6 seed Hawkinsville edged No. 11 Mitchell, 17-12, to advance to the state quarterfinals, while the Herald No. 4 Eagles closed their season with a record of 6-5.
After barely missing out on a postseason appearance last season in Larry Cornelius’ first year with the team, the Eagles stormed into the playoffs in 2013 only to run into an equally hot Hawkinsville team that has now won five straight.
“We had some great leaders out there this year, and our main focus was getting into region play and trying to run the table,” Cornelius said.
The Eagles almost did --- until they ran into Herald No. 2 Seminole County, which won a hard-fought game between the Region 1-A rivals to claim the championship.
“We are trying to take those steps and create great teams at Mitchell County, and these seniors are laying the foundation for the future,” Cornelius said about a talented senior class, which includes QB Bruce Bryant.
It was Bryant who got the Eagles on the board first Friday with a 40-yard rush. Hawkinsville kicked a second-quarter field goal, but Mitchell County went into halftime with a 6-3 lead.
Hawkinsville scored quickly out of the gates in the second half to jump ahead 9-6 and then took a 17-6 lead in the fourth quarter on a controversial play where the Red Devils scored on a 20-yard rush on second-and-long after an official inadvertently blew his whistle.
Mitchell County’s defenders stopped --- but the play didn’t, and the Eagles fell into a two-possession hole.
“That was a blow call,” Cornelius said.
Bryant hit Anthony Thomas on a 60-yard TD pass with five minutes left to pull the Eagles within a touchdown, and they got the ball back on their own 5-yard line in the closing minutes, but their game-winning drive stalled near midfield.