Valley Preps

‘Got to get tougher.’ Hardaway football shows reason for optimism in loss to Cairo

For around 17 of the first 30 minutes of the Hardaway-Cairo football game, the Hawks looked like a team fired out of a cannon. They scored on their first play from scrimmage, an 80-yard dime of a throw from Javian Toney to Aaron Pitts, who juggled the ball, corralled it, and sprinted to the end zone. The Hawks sideline drew a penalty for celebrating too hard, not that one could really blame them.

Then, it all sort of came apart.

The Hawks offense did not score for the rest of the game. Toney struggled to settle into a rhythm, the Syrupmakers ran trick plays galore and scored 21 unanswered points, ultimately beating Hardaway 21-7. The first-play touchdown counted for just over 40% of Hardaway’s entire offensive output on the night.

“Defensively, we played well,” Hawks coach Michael Woolridge said. “Offensively, we’ve got to get tougher up front. ... We’ll get back to work.”

This is where things are with this Hardaway team: Serious signs of promise and progress, such as keeping Cairo’s high-powered offense relatively in check, and the reality that this team still has a bit more improving to do before it can challenge Cairo and Carver for the top spot in Region 1-AAAA.

Still, there were positives. The Hawks really should have cut Cairo’s lead to 21-14 with around 10-minutes left in the contest. Had they done so, it would’ve likely changed the complexion of the game’s final minutes. But with those positives come drawbacks.

Hardaway twice had the ball at the Cairo 1-yard line in the third quarter and came away with no points. First, it committed a 15-yard late hit penalty after the play. Then, after getting back to the 1-yard line, the Hawks were stopped on fourth-and-goal. They would not come any closer to scoring the rest of the night.

“Little disappointed we didn’t stick it in at the goal line,” Woolridge said. “We’ve got to punch those in from the half-yard line.”

The Hawks finished fourth in Region 1-AAAA last season and made the playoffs ahead of local teams Northside and Shaw. The Hawks will not sit in a favorable region position after Friday night’s loss, but much of their region schedule remains to be played.

There are a lot of reasons to feel good about this Hawks team. They’re coming off a 2018 season in which they made the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and just underwent their first winning season since 2015.

But if Hardaway is to take that next step, it’s got to start beating some of the bigger names. Names like region foes Cairo and Carver.

The good news for Hardaway is, its playoff hopes are still very much intact.

The Hawks finished fourth in Region 1-AAAA last season and made the playoffs ahead of local teams Northside and Shaw. The Hawks will not sit in a favorable region position after Friday night’s loss, but much of their region schedule remains to be played.

“We have taken big steps, but we won’t take the biggest step until we can beat a quality opponent,” Woolridge said. “That’s our nemesis right now: We have to beat a quality opponent to get over that big hump. We’re really looking forward to it.”

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Joshua Mixon is a reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer. He covers sports (Auburn and preps) and local news, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America. He previously covered Georgia athletics for the Telegraph. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshDMixon.
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