WATSON – Live Oak football coach Brett Beard broke it down in the simplest of terms.
“He’s one of our bulls and it was time to ride the bull,” Beard said of running back Kee Hawkins.
Live Oak’s first road test last week at Mandeville was headed in the wrong direction through two-plus quarters.
The Eagles exited halftime trailing 7-0 and not long thereafter found themselves in a 14-0 hole following an interception and a touchdown by the homestanding Skippers.
It wasn’t exactly what Beard envisioned, and with Live Oak facing a potential breaking point in the game, the Eagles decided to “ride the bull” and turned to Hawkins in a time of need.
After a first half in which he carried four times Hawkins, a 5-foot-9, 204-pound battering ram, came alive in the second half and finished with 169 yards on 24 carries – scoring three touchdowns over a 9-minute stretch – to lift Live Oak to a 20-14 victory.
“I thought our guys did a phenomenal job of trusting the process, of staying with it all night,” Beard said. “We were able to get Kee into a rhythm, stuck with it and hammered it out.”
The No. 8 Eagles (2-0) return home for another nondistrict encounter at 7 p.m. Friday against West Feliciana (1-1).
“When we were playing we kept driving and felt good every time we picked up yards and moved the chains,” Hawkins said. “It built our confidence. We knew we could run the ball because they couldn’t stop us. Everyone was doing their assignments. When we won it felt even better.”
Live Oak’s fourth-quarter finish underscored one of Beard’s postgame concerns about his team’s slow start, something Hawkins felt was attributable to a poor practice at the beginning of last week.
With a better start in preparations for this week’s game with West Feliciana, the reigning Class 3A state championships, Hawkins is hopeful of a complete performance.
“We had a bad practice to start off and it kind of showed,” Hawkins said. “We talked in the locker room at halftime, got our minds right and just focused. This week we’ve had good practices. Everyone’s confidence is up, and their minds are where it’s supposed to be. We just have to keep it there for Friday night.”
During a stretch in which Live Oak reeled off five consecutive wins to reach the school’s first state quarterfinal, the Eagles did do with a rejuvenated offense behind the running of Khalil Smith and Hawkins.
Hawkins appeared to hit his peak once Live Oak reached the postseason, rushing 39 times for 306 yards (7.8 per carry) with four touchdowns during the Eagles’ magical stretch.
Hawkins concluded his sophomore season with 170 attempts for 997 yards (5.9 per carry) and 11 TDs, whetting his appetite for an even bigger junior campaign with Smith having graduated.
“I’ve got my eye on 2,000 yards,” said Hawkins, the team’s leading rusher with 36 carries for 305 yards (8.5 per carry) and 3 TDs. “To do that, I’ve got to get my mind right, fight and play hard every game and do what I do normally.”
And when Live Oak, which also can throw the ball with senior quarterback Sal Palermo, decides to “ride the bull” as was the case last week, Hawkins is always ready to follow the lead of fullback Hagen Long and an improving offensive line.
“I just have to do my job,” said Hawkins, who took an unofficial visit to Tulane last week. “I just have to keep playing my role, play it to the best I can.”
Beard added: "It just so happened it was Kee’s number that was called. He put us on his back and we rode.”