In their ninth consecutive SCISA Class 3A championship appearance, the Hammond Skyhawks reclaimed the trophy with a 17-0 win against Laurence Manning.
“This is not the biggest team we’ve had, it’s not the fastest team we’ve had, it’s not the most talented team we’ve had,” coach Erik Kimrey said. “But it’s the best team we’ve had, of kids that just played together. It just transcends the sport, when a group of kids come together and achieve something they could not achieve on their own.”
The Skyhawks finish the season 13-0, and have won their seventh title in nine seasons.
Led by a staunch offensive line and livewire running back T.J. Brady, the Skyhawks tore through Laurence Manning’s defense. The Swampcats, making their first state title bid since 1997, could find no answer for Brady, who posted 36 carries for 242 yards.
“He did what he’s done all year. He’s tenacious and he ran hard behind a good offensive line,” Kimrey said. “It makes me look like a better coach than I am.”
Brady said, “I couldn’t imagine going out any other way. I don’t think my role was any more important than anyone else’s role. We all came together as a team and did what we had to do.”
The game started as a defensive battle, with the teams trading fruitless possessions in the first quarter.
But the Skyhawks broke through in the second period.
Hammond got the ball at its 21, and Brady put up 37 yards – with a 16-yard first down rush to keep the drive alive on fourth-and-2 from the 50 – as the Skyhawks’ offense gained some traction.
A 7-yard rush from Brady set the Skyhawks up with first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, and Nick Garrett put Hammond across the plane with a 6-yard completion to Cantey Heath with 16 seconds left in the first half.
When Laurence Manning got the opening kickoff in the second half, the Hammond defense stuffed Tyshawn Epps and the Swampcats to force a punt and set up an 80-yard scoring drive. Brady gave the Skyhawks 65 yards and five first downs on six consecutive carries on the drive, which ended with a 27-yard field goal from Sean Hutchinson.
With 5:25 left to play, Brady walked into the endzone from 31 yards out to cap a six-minute drive in which he posted 10 carries and 76 yards.
As the Swampcats looked to rush their way back into the game, defensive coordinator Craig Farnsworth had the Skyhawk defense out for blood. The Skyhawks swooped in on Epps, blitzed every down, and never let Laurence Manning in the endzone.
“Our defense played the best game they’ve ever had of any Hammond defense in my time, and Craig Farnsworth deserves all the credit,” Kimrey said.
The Skyhawks’ past two championship bids had fallen short, and Hammond had lost a big group of senior leaders from the 2013 team. But the team persevered and picked up momentum as they rolled through the season undefeated.
“It feels awesome. Every week we just got better and better, we knew we could win, and now we’re here,” Brady said.
2nd: (H) Cantey Heath 6 pass from Nick Garrett (Sean Hutchinson kick)
3rd: (H) Hutchinson 27 field goal
4th: (H) Brady 31 run (Hutchinson kick)
Rushing—L: Tyshawn Epps 16-42 H: TJ Brady 36-242.
Passing—L: JT Eppley 3-8-0 H: Nick Garrett 7-11-0
Receiving—L: Todd Larrimer 2-21, Cagney Brunson 1-15. H: Cantey Heath 4-30.