Hardaway coach Jeff Battles stopped short of saying his game plan included a few trick plays, but he was willing to go all out with a playoff berth on the line.
There was a 74-yard Austin Scott touchdown on a hook-and-ladder play, a touchdown pass thrown by wide receiver Devin Jackson, and quarterback Joseph Gibson lined up in the shotgun on fourth down then kicked a fourth-quarter punt that buried a surprised Houston County team deep in its zone.
“We were pulling out all the stops,” Battles said. “We knew if we won tonight, we were in the playoffs, so we were going to do everything we could.”
It all went off with hardly a hitch for the Hawks (5-4, 4-2 Region 1-AAAA), who defeated Houston County (5-4, 2-4) 34-14 Thursday night at Kinnett Stadium to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
“It’s a relief,” Battles said of ending the playoff drought. “These kids did a great job, and the coaches did a wonderful job, too, getting them ready with this game plan. We had a few little mistakes here and there, but we overcame them all, and that’s what we were looking for.”
Hardaway is guaranteed at least a fourth seed and still could finish as the region champion if each of the three teams ahead goes 0-2 to finish the regular season. That also means the Hawks would have to defeat No. 1 Northside-Warner Robins on the road next week.
Scott, who rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns, wasn’t conceding anything yet but said the Hawks were looking at the regular-season finale as a chance to see how they stack up against a championship-caliber team and one that finished as the Class AAAAA runner-up in 2009.
“We already know we’re in the playoffs,” Scott said. “Next week is just an improvement game. We get to see how we match up against the best team in Class AAAA.”
Scott opened the scoring on Hardaway’s first drive, running in a 33-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1.
Houston County’s Bradley Newkirk intercepted Gibson on the Hawks’ next drive and returned the ball 53 yards to the Hardaway 11. Two plays later, Ron Brown ran in a 3-yard touchdown and the point-after kick tied the game at 7.
The tie lasted less than a minute as Jackson caught a Gibson pass near the line of scrimmage and flipped it back to Scott, who ran the hook-and-ladder 74 yards along the Houston County sideline for the score. Hardaway kicker Raul Echevrria made his second point-after attempt of the game to put Hardaway ahead 14-7 but missed his next three attempts.
Jackson sent the Hawks to halftime leading 20-7 on a 21-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Coppage with 31 seconds left in the second quarter. Jackson said Hardaway went into Thursday’s game prepared to control their playoff destiny.
“We really came together,” Jackson said. “We came close to making the playoffs last year, so we knew since last year it was our goal to get back there. We really wanted to come out this week and win.”
With the game already rolling in the Hawks’ favor, Scott broke free along the left side of his offensive line for a 72-yard, third-quarter run. It looked like Scott’s dash might end at the Houston County 15, where three defenders closed on him at the same time, but the speedy senior twisted out of everyone’s grasp and squirted by one more Houston County player for his third score of the game.
Battles said it was as dazzling a play as he has seen Scott make, and Scott said even he was impressed to find himself in the end zone at the end of it.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t even know how I got away from (the three defenders),” Scott said. “I made a couple cuts and ended up in the end zone.”
Hardaway’s Jerod Coleman intercepted a Tyler Hall pass and returned it for a 15-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and Hall was sacked in the end zone on Houston County’s next possession for a safety.
Hardaway’s defense held Houston County to 69 yards rushing, including 47 by Brown. Hall was 12-for-32 passing for 148 yards with a touchdown and threw an interception returned for a touchdown.
James Triplett added 68 yards rushing for Hardaway. Gibson was 14-for-16 passing for 113 yards with an interception.
Chris White, 706-571-8571; follow Chris online at twitter.com/le_chriswhite.
@z-BR Agate Bold Centered:Thursday at Kinnett Stadium
@z-BR TabQuarters 1col:Houston Co. 7 0 0 7 — 14
Hardaway 14 6 6 8 — 34
@z-BR Agate Bold Centered:First Quarter
HAR — Austin Scott 33 run (Raul Echevrria kick), 6:01
HOU — Ron Brown 3 run (Hunter Heck kick), 1:28
HAR — Scott 74 run (Echevrria kick), :31
@z-BR Agate Bold Centered:Second Quarter
HAR — T.J. Coppage 21 pass from Devin Jackson (kick failed), :31
@z-BR Agate Bold Centered:Third Quarter
HAR — Scott 72 run (kick failed), 7:48
@z-BR Agate Bold Centered:Fourth Quarter
HAR — Jerod Coleman 15 interception return (kick failed), 10:03
HOU — Zack Coatney 20 pass from Tyler Hall (Heck kick), 8:13
HAR — Safety, 5:30
Team records: Houston County 5-4, 2-4 Region 1-AAAA; Hardaway 5-4, 4-2. Next: Hardaway at No. 1 Northside-Warner Robins, 7:30 p.m. Friday.