Mary Montgomery quarterback Jared Hollins scrambles for a touchdown on a 9-yard run on fourth down against Baker Friday night in Semmes. (Helen Joyce/Call News)
Mary Montgomery running back Javione Hawthorne breaks loose on a 72-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against Baker Friday night in Semmes. (Helen Joyce/Call News)
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
SEMMES — It was hard to tell if plume after plume of celebratory smoke that wafted over Grider Stadium Friday night was coming from a newly erected Viking ship behind one end zone or from underneath Jared Hollins’ helmet.
Hollins passed for two touchdowns, both coming after spectacular escapes from the Hornets’ pass rush, and ran for two more in No. 4-ranked Mary G. Montgomery’s 35-14 victory over No. 7 Baker that put MGM (8-0, 5-0 7A Region 1) on the verge of its first 7A region championship.
Before an overflow crowd of 3,500 fans, Hollins completed 12 of 19 passes for 189 yards, including his pair of scoring throws about 3½ minutes apart in the second quarter to break a 7-7 tie and give the Vikings a 21-7 halftime lead on the way to their 14th straight regular-season victory.
“We did a good job weathering the storm in the first half,” MGM coach Zach Golson said. “It was emotional and back and forth but once we got the lead at the half, we felt confident if we played our brand of football the second half, we’d be fine.”
That brand of football includes committing no turnovers — and only four all year — while intercepting Hornets quarterback Josh Flowers four times and keeping Auburn commitment Bryce Cain from hurting the Vikings deep except for one blown coverage.
“How about them dang Vikings!” Golson proclaimed to his players afterward, the smoke still coming out of the dragon head on the bow of the ship. “No turnovers! Enjoy it. They’re going to get bigger as we go.”
Hollins was unruffled in the big moments Friday night.
In the second quarter, his 4-yard TD pass to Jaiden Smith on fourth-and-goal came after Hollins rolled away from pressure and was forced to his left, where he flicked a pass against his body into a space the size of a dinner plate to Smith, who was covered like gravy on mashed potatoes by Hornets defensive back Jawon Springs.
“That throw moving to his left was unbelievable, going through that tight window,” Golson marveled.
On the next possession, Hollins again twisted away from pressure and found James Bolton backing into the end zone for a 51-yard TD.
Baker (6-2, 4-1) trimmed the lead to 21-14 after Flowers’ 32-yard TD pass to Kevin Beckham on the Hornets’ first possession of the second half but a shanked punt to Baker’s 10 set up Hollins’ 9-yard scoring run on fourth-and-goal to make it 28-14 late in the third quarter.
“I put Jared in a tough spot there twice on fourth down, giving him two full-field progressions, and he came through,” Golson said. “Jared carried the load for us.”
Hollins, who paints crosses on his face every game, begged to differ.
“God did,” he said.
Perhaps a team with only four turnovers all year is not of the normal football world.
“No turnovers was one of the keys to success this week,” Hollins said.
Hornets coach Steve Normand said it’s tough to beat the Vikings if they don’t beat themselves.
“You can’t play big games like that and have three turnovers give them good field position,” Normand said. “You’ve got to make them work for it. And they don’t make mistakes. They play cold, they play clean. And they have a very good defense. Their coaches have done a great job. They’re very fast and physical.”
Trailing 28-14, Flowers drove the Hornets from their 20 to the MGM 11 early in the fourth quarter but his pass deflected off Beckham inside the 5 and into the hands of Vikings safety Shondell Harris.
MGM then drove 89 yards in nine plays and Hollins scored from 5 yards out.
Flowers threw four interceptions, two to MGM cornerback Jariell Lett on underthrown balls to Cain, the Auburn commitment and leading receiver in 7A.
“We were just forcing it, trying to make things happen,” Normand said.
Cain was targeted 14 times by Flowers but had just five catches, including a 47-yarder to tie it 7-7 in the first quarter.
“Lett played a phenomenal game,” Golson said. “Cain got him in the first quarter but we made an adjustment. He was in that stack formation and we were a little too wide and Cain hit the seam.”
Lett drew Cain in man coverage most of the night and said he savored the matchup.
“We lace our cleats up the same,” he said. “I’ve never been afraid of a battle.”
Lett said the Vikings’ defense, which has now forced 22 turnovers, had something to prove against a Baker offense averaging 38 points per game.
“I don’t think we were playing with the same hunger we had earlier in the year,” Lett said. “We got back to it tonight. We wanted to get back to showing we have the No. 1 defense in the state.”
They also got to show their running game is in good hands, even after starter Troy Flowers was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Javione Hawthorne — who has become the Vikings’ prime running back — jolted the huge crowd to its feet early when he broke a 72-yard touchdown run on the game’s third play.
“We came to play,” he said. “We came to have fun and win.”
Hawthorne, who came into the game with 288 yards rushing and had 126 yards on 11 carries, said he remembered what he had been taught when he saw an alley down the sideline open up on his first carry.
“I saw a guy off the edge and knew he wouldn’t get to me,” he said. “Coach always tells me when I get to the second level to give him a burst. I saw it and I said, ‘It’s go time.’”
Hollins said seeing Hawthorne score was a special thrill.
“I don’t know if (Baker) expected big things from him but he stepped up to the plate and hit a home run,” Hollins said. “I think that’s the most excited I’ve been on a touchdown all year.”
Hawthorne’s best career game might be a sign of things to come, he said.
“I hate what happened to Troy,” Hawthorne said. “It’s some big shoes to fill and I have to fill them. I want to do my best for the team and run hard.”
Flowers ran for 110 yards on 25 carries and was 11-of-25 passing for 156 yards. Cain had five catches for 75 yards.
Mary Montgomery outgained the Hornets 398 yards to 303, including 209 yards on the ground.
The Vikings can claim the 7A Region 1 championship by winning at Daphne (4-3, 3-1) next Friday. But an MGM loss and a Trojans win against Foley on Oct. 27 would force a tiebreaker to decide the champion if the Vikings, Daphne and Baker each finish 5-1.