MARSHALL — Don't call it an upset.
The Huntsville Hornets rolled into Maverick Stadium on Friday night for a Class 5A Division II bi-district round showdown with Marshall, boasting more confidence than your average No. 4 seed. They showed why, knocking the District 9 champions out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
Huntsville closed the game with 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, cruising to a 35-12 road victory to kick off postseason play. The Hornets are understandably confident, but also focused in on the goal they've had all season — a state championship.
"This gives us a lot of confidence," Hunstville senior linebacker Jordan Brown said, "but every week we have to go out there, stay focused and keep fighting."
The Hornets fell behind almost instantly, as Marshall junior receiver Demarcus Williams took a jet sweep 88 yards to the house on the first play from scrimmage. Huntsville had no issue flipping momentum back in its favor.
Marshall had been led all season by senior Savion Williams — a receiver-turned-quarterback with multiple Power 5 offers that amassed over 2,000 total yards and 30 touchdowns in 2019 — but the Hornet defense made him a non-factor. Williams completed 6 of 12 passes for 92 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while rushing for 27 yards — a season-low for a player that averaged 99 rushing yards per game entering Friday — on nine carries.
By keying on the Mavericks' star player, Huntsville was able to hold an offense that averaged 42.5 points per game in district play to just two scores. Marshall — which scored its two touchdowns on plays of 88 and 51 yards — didn't take a snap in Huntsville territory until the final drive of the game.
"With all the RPO and stuff that they do, a lot of people squeeze it and try to take the dive," Huntsville head coach Rodney Southern said. "Anytime we got a non-aggressive block, our eyes went to No. 3. Don't let him make the big play."
The Hornets elected to go with senior Matthew Southern at quarterback after starting sophomore AJ Wilson the final two weeks of the regular season. Southern responded by delivering one of his most efficient performances of the year.
"He struggled partly because of injury and partly because of fatigue or whatever it was ... but we decided to go back," Coach Southern said. "In a situation like this, it would be really tough on a sophomore quarterback. I thought Matthew played great tonight."
Southern completed 10 of 19 passes for 139 yards while rushing for 19 yards and two touchdowns, and perhaps most importantly, passed for three of Huntsville's five conversions on third and fourth down.
None of these conversions were bigger than the one that occurred on fourth and 1 from the Marshall 27-yard line late in the second quarter. Trailing 6-0, Huntsville trotted out sophomore kicker Christian Avelar to attempt a field goal. But following a Maverick timeout, the Hornets changed course and sent the offense back out.
Southern proceeded to hit senior receiver Miles Tatum for an 18-yard gain to move the chains. Two plays later, the signal-caller plunged across the goal line on a QB sneak to put Huntsville on top for good with 2:04 left in the half.
"I just focused on each play," the quarterback said. "I didn't worry about the next play or anything after that. I focused on that play and went on from there."
"I knew he wasn't going to (miss a beat)," Tatum added. "He just did his thing, that's all there is to it."
Huntsville only led by two entering the fourth quarter, but senior running backs Cameron Myers and Tristan Riggins helped put the game away. Myers rushed for a pair of scores and Riggins added another to stretch the Hornets' advantage to 23 points.
"The linemen, obviously," Myers remarked when asked about the key to Huntsville's offensive outburst. "They were blocking their tail off and we were able to see the holes."
Friday marked a homecoming of sorts for Coach Southern, who started his head coaching career at Marshall nearly two decades ago. It was his first game back at Maverick Stadium as a visiting coach, adding an 'extra special' nature to the victory.
"It was interesting walking out and seeing people I used to work with and good friends of mine," the coach said. "It's always good to win, especially on the road, as hard as it is in the state of Texas. But it's kind of extra special to know this is a place I called home for five years."
Huntsville is set to face Crosby next week in the area round. The date, time and location has yet to be determined.