With his team entering the Class 3A state playoff pool a year ago without his top player, East Feliciana football coach Cedric Anderson decided to see if freshman Corey Hawkins could swim in deep water.

While the end result wasn’t achieved — the No. 32 seed Tigers dropped a 28-26 decision to No. 1 Farmerville — Anderson found another viable option at quarterback when Hawkins passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns.

More than a year later, No. 22 East Feliciana (7-3) makes a return trip to No. 14 Farmerville (10-2) in Friday’s Class 3A state quarterfinal, where Hawkins is no longer a novice but an established starter with designs on not letting the Tigers dreams die this time around.

“One of the worst things I experienced after last year’s game was seeing the seniors and the look on their faces when we lost,” Hawkins said. “I felt like I could have done something more to keep their season alive. It broke me down.”

East Feliciana entered the postseason last year without its brightest star in quarterback/linebacker Kendell Beckwith because of an injury.

Instead of the Tigers fading Hawkins displayed the poise and determination of a seasoned veteran, nearly leading his team to the third No. 1 vs. No. 32 upset since the playoffs went to seeded brackets.

“You could see he was a great athlete, but the only thing we had Kendell,” East Feliciana football coach Cedric Anderson said of Hawkins. “He was just waiting his turn, and when his number was called, he stepped up. When he played as well as he did, it showed me that we would have two kids that could get under center and be a leader for the team.”

Beckwith, one of the state’s top college prospects, began the season as the team’s starter at quarterback, with Hawkins playing wide receiver and free safety. Three games into the season, Beckwith was sidelined with a shoulder injury, and Hawkins, a 6-foot, 190-pounder, shifted back to quarterback just in time for the team’s toughest stretch with back-to-back road games at Class 4A Salmen and the start of District 6-3A play at Parkview Baptist.

East Feliciana lost 19-12 to Salmen, which lost in last week’s state regionals. The Tigers then went to Parkview, also a state quarterfinalist, and led 19-18 at halftime and trailed 26-25 midway through the third quarter before losing 53-39.

Hawkins accounted for 350 yards and five TDs against Parkview, throwing for 275 yards and three TDs and rushing for 75- and 2-yard scores.

“I was kind of nervous against Salmen because it was my first start this year,” Hawkins said. “I made some mistakes that could have been corrected throughout the game. I started feeling comfortable in the Parkview game on our first drive and felt like I could do anything I wanted to do on the field.”

Hawkins, who has completed 75 of 114 passes for 1,264 yards with 14 TDs and only three interceptions, has helped ignite a five-game win streak that’s carried East Feliciana to this point. In last week’s 39-10 regional win over No. 6 Rayne, Hawkins passed for 229 yards and three TDs and ran for another score.

Hawkins grabbed a hold of the offense at a time when Beckwith returned from injury and has never let go. The two have managed to co-exist within the framework of a team built on unselfish play, and the result has the Tigers a step away from their second semifinal appearance in three years.

“He doesn’t want to lose,” Hawkins said of Beckwith. “He’s going to do everything in his power to pick up the whole team and help everyone around him be successful.”

Anderson has remained with a two-quarterback system during East Feliciana’s stretch drive. He has started Hawkins at quarterback and utilized Beckwith’s immense talents at wide receiver. When Beckwith plays quarterback — he threw a TD in last week’s playoff win — Hawkins moves to wide receiver. Also in the event the Tigers run into any pass-oriented teams, you’ll find him in the secondary doing his part.

“I just do whatever the team needs me to do,” Hawkins said. “We’re not a selfish team at all. Wherever coach puts us, that’s what we’re going to do. Whether that’s on defense or offense, I’m willing to do it for a win.”