Kell’s Bo Benincosa (11) and Miykayah Vinson (20) break up a pass in their Nov. 1, 2019 game against Hiram.

Hiram’s dream of a state championship was dashed with a 21-17 loss to New Manchester in the first round of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class 5A tournament Nov. 27.

The Hornets (1-10) were the only Paulding County team to advance to the state playoffs. Hiram, the No. 4 seed from Region 7, lost to the Region 6 champion Jaguars 46-13 in September. But in their playoff rematch, the Hornets led throughout the game until New Manchester recovered a fumble and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown with three minutes left, head coach Pete Fominaya said. In the ensuing possession, Hiram drove all the way to the Jaguars’ 15-yard line but could not get any closer.

“They played really hard. I was encouraged by their effort and enthusiasm,” Fominaya said. “We knew it would be a tough game. I thought we came out and competed and were really in control of the game for the entire time except for the fumble at the end. I’m proud of the way the kids played.”

The Hornets were led by WR Dijon McKissack, who blocked a punt, scooped up the ball and returned it for a touchdown in the second quarter, and QB Christopher Brown, who had 45 yards rushing and was 5-for-8 passing for about 80 yards and a touchdown.

“Defensively, we played really well,” Fominaya said. “We gave up close to 400 yards passing (against New Manchester) in the regular season, and this time we held them to two touchdowns.”

After going 10 years without a state playoff appearance, Hiram advanced to the postseason for the second straight season. But 2020 was different, given the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No one’s ever faced anything like this before,” Fominaya said. “The resilience of the players and coaches and community is a testament for our mental toughness and ability to overcome adversity. I was proud of the way they were able play every week and overcome adversity. It seemed every week was a different struggle.”

New Manchester advanced to the second round, where it hosts Eastside.

“(Head coach) Cedric Jackson has done a good job at New Manchester,” Fominaya said. “They have a chance to go far in the playoffs.”

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