CULLMAN — When Florence starting quarterback Blake Hawkins left the game in the first quarter with an injured shoulder, Roland Adams didn’t panic.
The senior running back knew the offense would go through him, and he was prepared.
Adams wore down Cullman’s defense, rushing for 121 yards on 20 carries for two touchdowns, including an eight-carry, 102-yard third quarter to lead No. 6-ranked Florence past the Bearcats 28-14 in a Class 6A, Region 8 matchup Thursday night.
The Falcons rushed for 234 yards on the night and only threw two passes the entire second half.
“We had to get some offensive leadership, so I felt like it was on the running backs to step up,” Adams said. “Our run game is strong, so our running backs had to step up.”
With Florence (2-1, 2-0) trailing 14-13 midway through the third quarter, Adams and the offense came out in the wildcat formation and found success. Adams cut through the Cullman (1-2, 0-1) defense and raced 70 yards for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 21-14 lead after the 2-point conversion, which was caught by offensive lineman Chandler Brewer off a tipped pass.
“We just happened to go wildcat and the play was there, so I made it,” Adams said. “We feel like we have the best (offensive) line in the state. I knew they were going to get their job done, so I was going to have to get my job done. As soon as coach said wildcat, I said, ‘Let’s go score.’”
Kameron Davis punched in the final score with 23 seconds left in the third quarter to give Florence a 28-14 lead.
“(The wildcat) is something we’ve had in for a while and waiting for an opportunity to use it, and tonight was a good night to,” coach J.B. Wallace said. “Anytime you lose your quarterback, it puts you in a bad situation, but our kids overcame adversity and did what we asked them to do.”
Junior quarterback Derrick Thirkill stepped in for Hawkins when he left the game after the Falcons’ second offensive series after injuring his shoulder on a read-option play. Wallace said he thinks Hawkins will be back on the field soon.
“I think he’s going to be fine,” Wallace said. “He’s a little bit sore today, but he’ll be all right.”
Florence came out roaring in the first quarter and scored on Adams’ 3-yard run after Hawkins connected with Dee Smith for a 56-yard gain. However, Cullman answered with a 95-yard kickoff return to tie the game.
Falcons’ kicker Edson Casarrubia did his part with a pair of field goals to make the score 13-7 to end the first quarter, and Florence held the lead into halftime.
Cullman took a brief one-point lead on a 2-yard run in the third quarter, but Florence didn’t allow another point.
“For the defense to be able to come in and shut them down for the most part…is huge for us,” linebacker Keaton Anderson said. “A win on the road against a hard team like Cullman. We’re especially lucky to come out of there with a win. We’re 2-0 in the region and we’ll keep on moving.”
Falcons Dominate Trojans in Battle of the River
In front of a nearly sold out Braly Stadium, Florence showed its dominance Friday night.
Senior quarterback Blake Hawkins threw for 225 yards and four touchdowns to lead the No. 8-ranked Falcons past No. 7-ranked Muscle Shoals 39-20 to open Class 6A, Region 8 play.
“This was huge,” Florence coach J.B. Wallace said. “We lost the first game, so being able to bounce back from that is huge for our confidence and shows what we put in pays off. The gameplan was just basically do what we do. We found a few holes and we executed. Things worked out our way tonight.”
Hawkins seemed unfazed by the Muscle Shoals (1-1, 0-1) pass rush and used quick, short passes out of the spread option formation that seemed to fluster the defense. Hawkins finished the game 20 of 28 for 225 yards and added 10 carries for 87 yards, while teammate Roland Adams did his part with six catches for 90 yards and 54 rushing yards to total three touchdowns for the Falcons (1-1, 1-0).
Trey Williams led the Trojans with 76 yards on 10 carries for one touchdown and quarterback Landon Smothers was 6 of 8 for 101 passing yards and one touchdown.
“We had a great week of practice and the whole team put it all together,” Hawkins said. “We just came out firing on all cylinders. They mostly run a cover 3, so they were giving us five yards a pop on the hitches and out (routes), so we thought we’d take it.”
The Falcons executed that plan to perfection and outscored Muscle Shoals 22-0 in the second and third quarters to take a commanding 32-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Muscle Shoals offensive line had a tough time blocking the defense all night, as the Trojans were limited to only 134 rushing yards.
“We just made sure we played technique and were disciplined up front and we controlled the line of scrimmage tonight,” defensive lineman Malik Manciel said. “It’s so exciting to put a team down and stop all speculation.”
Jordan Dollerson and Manciel exerted their will and plugged most running lanes. Dollerson recorded a safety early in the second quarter after a Florence punt was downed at the 1.
Florence added another score, as Hawkins connected with Adams for a short pass into the flats and then darted past the defense for a 27-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a 20-7 halftime lead.
The Falcons didn’t let up in the second half. Hawkins found Tucker Sigle for a 7-yard touchdown before Jakobi Byrd got in on the action with a 69-yard touchdown reception across the middle after he sprinted past the secondary. Hawkins connected with Adams for his final touchdown pass of the night on a 34-yard pass.
Adams said the fan support was overwhelming and helped the team get off to a fast start.
“It’s crazy,” Adams said. “It shows that our fans support us and we love it. We thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s an honor. It’s amazing as a high schooler and seeing thousands of people. It’s just crazy.”
Muscle Shoals broke through in the fourth quarter with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Smothers to Desmond Williams and added another score with a 5-yard run from Trey Williams, but it was too late for a comeback.
“I thought that Florence pretty well controlled the game,” Muscle Shoals coach Scott Basden said. “…Hat’s off to them. They have a great football team and their defense played really well. It just wasn’t our night.”
Edson Casarrubias started the scoring with a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter before Carson Hollingsworth gave Muscle Shoals a brief 7-3 lead. Florence answered quickly with a 75-yard kickoff return and scored when Adams burst through for a 2-yard to give the Falcons a 10-7 lead.
“We were prepared coming into this game,” Adams said. “I believe this sends a message that if (anyone) wants to win the region; they’ve got to come through us. This is our region.”
Falcons Lose Heart Breaker to Shades Valley
IRONDALE — It looked like Florence was about to pull the upset, but Shades Valley found magic on fourth-and-14 with 3:06 left in regulation.
Quarterback RaShad Louie connected with Keith Mixon for a 68-yard touchdown pass to give Shades Valley the lead. Then, the No. 3-ranked Mounties held on for a thrilling 37-35 victory over No. 6-Florence in a Class 6A matchup Friday at Shades Valley.
“We had a great gameplan, but we had a few mental lapses,” said Florence coach J.B. Wallace, who was making his head coaching debut. “You hate to lose any game. They made a lot of plays and we have a lot to work on.”
Florence nearly won the game on its final drive. Roland Adams powered his way through the line for six yards to convert on 4th-and-6 to put the ball on the Florence 38. The Falcons only managed four yards to bring up another 4th-and-6 situation. Quarterback Blake Hawkins attempted a deep pass to William Barnett, but the pass was just over Barnett’s outstretched arms.
“I stepped up in the pocket and put a little too much adrenaline in (the throw),” Hawkins said.
Hawkins finished the game with 89 rushing and 180 passing yards to go along with two touchdowns.
Florence senior defensive lineman Jordan Dollerson had his way with anyone who tried to block him. Dollerson finished the game with three sacks, including a fumble recovery in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
“I would’ve loved to have come out with the win, but I just do what my coaches tell me to do,” Dollerson said. “Three years of technique and working on my body, I just came out and (played).”
Florence rallied from a 24-14 halftime deficit to take a 28-24 lead. But Louie put Shades Valley ahead again with a 1-yard run, but it didn’t last long, as Adams burst through for a 24-yard touchdown run with 3:54 left to give Florence a brief 35-31 lead.
Despite the loss, Dollerson said the team is resilient and will always fight back.
“It just shows that we’re not going to back down to anybody,” he said. “We’re just going to continue to play hard for all four quarters.”
The Falcons started slowly in the first quarter as Louie displayed his speed, darting past defenders on his way for a 74-yard touchdown run.
Florence responded later in the quarter when Hawkins found Barnett for a 42-yard reception down the sideline to put the ball on the 14-yard line, but Shades Valley held and Daron Payne intercepted a pass on a botched field goal attempt to stop the threat.
Shades Valley recovered a bad snap on a punt at the FHS 6 near the end of the first quarter, but the Falcons limited the damage to a 20-yard field goal.
Mixon added another score on a 2-yard run to give Shades Valley a 17-0 lead.
Florence finally found its groove later in the second quarter, as Hawkins threw a strike to Adams for a 12-yard touchdown. Shades Valley answered with a touchdown by Mixon, but Hawkins responded with a touchdown of his own with a 40-yard pass to Dee Smith to trim the score to 24-14 that held until halftime.
The Falcons bullied their way through the defense to start the third quarter and scored when Adams ran it in from the 4 yard line to hush the crowd and make the score 24-21.
“We physically got beat down tonight,” Shades Valley coach Bill Smith said. “They gave us a lot of pressure.”
2014 Florence Falcons Football Preview... LET'S PLAY FOOTBALL
Gone is coach Jamey DuBose, who made a four-month pit stop at Charles Henderson before accepting the coaching job at Central-Phenix City. First-team All-State quarterback Kendrick Doss is now at Ole Miss. Even the region changed, as Florence will play in Class 6A, Region 8, featuring Muscle Shoals, Athens, Austin, Cullman, Decatur and Hartselle — teams that combined to finish 56-29 last year.
Despite all of the alterations, former defensive coordinator and new coach J.B. Wallace expects to improve upon a 9-4 record that featured the Falcons setting team records for most points in a season (381), most points in a single game (69) and tied the record for most wins in a season (9) en route to a quarterfinal appearance against Hoover.
"Our expectations first and foremost are to win the region," Wallace said. "That's our short-term goal. Our long-term goal is to win a championship.
"Everything has been leading up to where we are right now. This group has done a great job picking up where we left off last year. They're very competitive and have a competitive spirit and that's carried over to this year. They have a refuse-to-lose mentality."
Senior Blake Hawkins will take over at quarterback. Hawkins, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound transfer from Tishimingo (Mississippi) County, is also a three-star quarterback, according to 247Sports, and will run the spread offense.
"I think we're going to be similar to last year's (team)," Wallace said. "We have some things built in where he can use his legs. He's fast and athletic, and we're going to use him very similar to what we did with (Doss)."
Joining Hawkins in the backfield will be senior running back Roland Adams, while Khari Smith and Kameron Davis will also receive carries.
Three-year starter and senior William Barnett will lead the way at receiver, while 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior tight end Tucker Sigle will create matchup problems for defenders.
Senior left tackle Chandler Brewer, who transferred from Central and committed to Middle Tennessee State earlier in the month, will join senior center Tyler Olive on the offensive line. The Falcons will depend heavily on those two, as Vanderbilt signee Cole Hardin and three other starters graduated.
"(Brewer's) going to be an addition to what we have," Wallace said "He's doing a great job learning what we're doing. Tyler Olive has been a starter for two years, so we have a lot of stock in him, as well."
The Falcons defense will be just as potent.
Alabama commit and senior linebacker Keaton Anderson will captain the defense, while nose guard Malik Manciel and defensive end Jordan Dollerson will hold the defense line. Senior safety Dee Smith, a three-star with offers from Auburn, Kentucky, Miami, Mississippi State and Tennessee, will be tasked with stopping the passing game, as the Falcons will use the 3-4 formation.
"We play about 12 (defensive linemen) on a Friday night," Wallace said.
Linebackers Spencer Currie and Braden White will see plenty of playing time alongside Anderson.
"They're competitive and they're athletic, and that's what you want from your linebackers, Wallace said.
Seniors B.J. Oakley and Lamar Lee will join Smith in the secondary,
"They hold each other accountable," Wallace said. "Anytime things get tough, you've got kids quick to cut corners, but they hold each other accountable and want to do things the right way. That's one thing as far as maturity; they understand the hard work that it takes."
Edson Casarrubias will be the team's kicker.
Florence averaged 29.3 points on offense and allowed 21.3 points last season.