Sweet revenge
Florence steamrolls past Shades Valley and into Class 6A quarterfinals

FLORENCE — The temperature never made it above freezing Friday night, but that didn’t seem to faze Florence which came out warm and closed it on fire.

Quarterback Blake Hawkins threw four touchdown passes and ran for another as the Falcons set a school playoff scoring record in blowing past Shades Valley 43-21 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Class 6A state playoffs.

Playing in the quarterfinals for the second straight season, Florence travels to Gardendale (8-4) on Friday. A win would put the Falcons into the semifinals for the first time in school history.

“We planned really well for this game,” the 6-foot-5, 210-pound senior quarterback said. “We came out fast and executed from the start and that was the difference.”

Hawkins was 17 of 24 passing for 234 yards.

Florence avenged a season-opening loss to the Mounties with the win.

As good as the offense looked, Florence’s defense was equally impressive.

Defensive lineman Malik Manciel and company held Shades Valley to just four first downs and 93 total yards in the first half. The Mounties, who were without starting quarterback RaShad Louie due to suspension, managed just seven points against the Falcons first-team defense.

Florence kept Shades Valley’s defense, including 6-foot-2, 348-pound tackle Daron Payne, off balance throughout with its short passing attack and hurry-up offense. The five-star Payne, who holds offers Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State, finished with two quarterback sacks.

Florence went 51 yards on a seven-play opening drive that was capped when Hawkins connected with tight end Tucker Sigle on a 17-yard touchdown. Junior kicker Edson Casarrubias was good on his first of six extra points to put the Falcons ahead 7-0 just over three minutes into the game.

Shades Valley answered when running back Keith Mixon broke free for a 49-yard sprint to the end zone to tie the game at 7. It was the first of three touchdowns for the Mississippi State commitment, who was the lone bright spot for the Mounties.

A long kickoff return set up Hawkins for a 1-yard keeper around left end that put Florence back in front. Roland Adams tacked on another touchdown — this time from 24 yards out — as the Falcons, after a successful 2-point conversion, carried a 22-7 lead into halftime.

Receiver William Barnett hauled in touchdowns of 15 and 34 yards from Hawkins in the second half, and Kobi Byrd added a 40-yard touchdown reception to push Florence’s lead to 43-7 midway through the fourth quarter.

Shades Valley quarterback Claude Newell threw two late touchdowns of 61 and 23 yards, both to Mixon, against reserves to close it.

“We had an excellent week of preparation,” first-year Florence head coach J.B. Wallace said. “It really feels good to see that we are gelling. It’s amazing to see how far the team has come from game one to right now.”

“Watching tape, we didn’t see that they had really progressed that much since week one,” Manciel said. “Our team has come a long way since then. That just shows you how much we have worked. Now we want to go all the way.”