Falcons Win Region Championship

DECATUR — Students stormed the field as the final horn sounded to help Florence celebrate the Class 6A, Region 8 championship it won in convincing fashion.

The Falcons methodically moved the ball down the field using short, quick passes or outside runs to wear down the Decatur defense en route to a 23-6 victory Friday on the road to win the region title for the first time since 2007.

Florence (7-2, 6-0) will host a first-round playoff game in two weeks, while Decatur (6-3, 4-2) will be on the road as the third seed.

“It feels great,” Florence coach J.B. Wallace said. “It’s one of the goals we set. The coaches have done a great job on both sides of the ball getting us prepared to do it. I think we’re where we want to be. We’re still taking baby steps to get where we ultimately want to be, but this is a great way to be on that track right here.”

Quarterback Blake Hawkins went 19 of 25 for 191 yards and used an 11-yard touchdown run to guide the Falcons, while slot receiver Jakobi Byrd racked up 90 yards on nine catches. Running back Roland Adams finished with 47 yards and one touchdown.

“They were just giving (the short passes) to us,” Hawkins said. “They were keeping those outside linebackers in the box and we felt like that was something we could get all night, so we just took advantage of it.”

Added Byrd, “I was just doing my job. It being the region championship I had to (step up) and the quarterback just read the play.”

Trailing 6-3 early in the second quarter, Adams bounced a run to the outside for a 4-yard touchdown run that gave Florence the lead. The Falcons added three points before the half, as kicker Edson Casarrubias, who made a 38-yard field goal in the first quarter, nailed a career-long 42-yard field goal with 5.6 seconds left for a 13-6 advantage.

“I’ve got some confidence in me,” Casarrubias said. “I was just thinking I had to make them because it was a big game.”

Added Wallace: “Edson stepped up tonight when we needed him to. We’ve put him in pressure situations all year and he’s come through for us.”

The Falcons defense, which has given up only one touchdown in the last three games, dismantled the Decatur offense and didn’t allow a drive more of more than six plays in the second half. The Red Raiders totaled just 144 yards in the game.

Defensive lineman Malik Manciel intercepted a pass on Decatur’s second drive of the third quarter and returned it about 10 yards to the 30-yard line.

“That was amazing and it couldn’t have happened in a better game than a region championship game,” Manciel said. “It was an exciting moment. We just put that hard work in during the week and that hard work always pays off.”

Casarrubias kicked a 26-yard field goal midway through the third quarter before Hawkins scored the final points of the night on an 11-yard run to extend the Florence lead to 23-6 with 3:42 left in the third.

Fransisco Tirado scored the only points for Decatur, as he connected on field goals of 34 and 30 yards.

“Defense, offense, and (special teams), these kids love to play; they have fun,” Wallace said. “They get after it and they’re very coachable. So, anytime you got kids that are coachable, you can’t ask for more than that.”