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Hazlehurst prevails

HAZLEHURST – In a clash of Class 3A titans,Hazlehurst’s Demetrius Cain was at his best. The powerful Cainrushed for 165 yards and one touchdown and sparked a hard-hittingdefense as the Indians handed Philadelphia’s Tornadoes an 18-13Friday night setback in the third round of the Class 3A stateplayoffs.

    Cain, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior, contributed 13 tackles atmiddle linebacker. The Indians (12-1) handed Philadelphia its firstloss in 14 games and set up a South State 3A title match Fridaynight at Robert McDaniel Sr. Stadium against the Seminary Bulldogs.Seminary eliminated defending state champion Forest 21-20.

    “It was tough out there,” said Cain, describing the epic strugglethat saw Hazlehurst trailing 13-12 at halftime. We had to come backin the second half and play Hazlehurst football.”

    Cain had ripped off a tackling-breaking 81-yard touchdown run inthe second quarter, putting the Indians on top, 12-7.

    Asked about his rushing performance, Cain said, “Give my offensiveline credit. They blocked well.”

    Hazlehurst as a whole played well, especially on defense. TheIndians limited Philly’s high-octane offense to 205 yards.Highly-touted running back Medgal Peebles rushed the football 27times for 94 yards and 1 touchdown, it coming early in the secondquarter.

    Peebles, a 6-foot, 195-pound senior, had rushed for 1,145 yards and20 touchdowns entering the game. He broke loose on a 53-yard TD runon Philly’s first offensive snap but it was wiped out by an illegalprocedure penalty; perhaps providing an omen of things to come.

    Philadelphia coach Teddy Dyess saw his team suffer elimination lastyear by Hazlehurst. He said he anticipated another close game.

    “This was two of the top Class 3A programs going at it from startto finish,” said Dyess. “I thought it might be a 7-6 game.

    “Hazlehurst really got after us on defense,” Dyess continued. “Wewanted to come in here and run right at them.

    “I expect to see them again in the future. We return seven or eighton defense so we will be back next year.”

    Dyess praised his squad. “I’ve won two state championships and thisis probably the best team I’ve ever had.”

    On a cold night, the Tornadoes displayed a punishing ground attackand launched a 13-play, 82-yard scoring drive that ended withPeebles plunging over left tackle from a yard out. Latmer Smithkicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 10:21 left in the firsthalf.

    Hazlehurst’s defense accounted for the Indians’ first touchdown.Philly quarterback Lee Smith was sacked and fumbled near midfield.Linebacker Xavion Thedford scooped up the football and rumbled 51yards to paydirt. The 2-point conversion pass failed and it was7-6.

    A 57-yard punt by Latmer Smith had the Indians backed up at their7-yard line with 2:44 left in the first half. Cain broke loosethree plays later on the 81-yard scoring jaunt, making it 12-7.

    A fumbled punt return at Hazlehurst’s 45-yard line gave Philly ascoring opportunity with 17 seconds left in the half. On seconddown, Lee Smith threw a strike to Latmer Smith between two Indiandefenders. He twisted loose and raced to the end zone, putting histeam up 13-6 at halftime.

    “I can’t say enough about our defense,” said Hazlehurst first-yearhead coach Randall Montgomery. “They have been the heart and soulof our team.”

    Defense dominated the second half of play. Hazlehurst took over atits 49-yard line with 2:56 left in the third quarter. D’AlexRockingham broke free on a 41-yard dash to Philly’s 10 and scored 3players later on a plunge over right tackle.

    Another 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete and the Indians led18-13 with 1:17 left in the third.

    After a series of defensive stands, Philly had one moreopportunity, taking over at its 49 with 2:46 left to play. TheTornadoes  gained a firstdown at the Hazlehurst 40 but Lee was sacked hard on the next playby Thedford and John Bridges recovered the fumble with 1:26 left onthe clock.

     On defense, end JavariousTanner contributed 9 tackles to the victory., Demond Tucker made 8tackles and Darius Powell 6.