If you picked the Oak Grove Warriors to make back-to-back 6A State Championship appearances and win back-to-back South State Championships, you were one of the few. With key departures from last season’s squad, Oak Grove did not look championship material on paper.
But championships aren’t won on paper.
Oak Grove proved that as they defeated cross-town rival Petal at Panther Stadium 35-28 to win the 6A South State Championship and advance to M.M. Roberts Stadium, where they will fight one more battle. That battle is against Oxford.
“They’ve played with so much heart. When you have a team that never quits, you have a good football team. I’ve said it so much I don’t think I can say it anymore how proud I am of every one of these guys,” said Oak Grove head coach Drew Causey.
Oak Grove’s night did not get off to the start that they wanted. On their initial possession, the Warriors got into Petal territory but were stalled and forced into a fourth and three situation. Senior quarterback Damon Stewart scrambled for an open lane or receiver only to be met by a Panther defender. Stewart was strip-sacked, resulting in a turnover on downs.
Petal then quickly put points on the board as running back Micah McGowan pierced through the defense for a 49-yard rushing touchdown. The successful PAT gave Petal a 7-0 lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Both defenses stood tall through the first quarter, and then midway through the second quarter, Stewart found wide-receiver Jordan Coleman for a 30-yard touchdown. The PAT evened the game 7-7 with 4:16 remaining.
A botched handoff between Nicholson and McGowan gave Oak Grove excellent field position, and Stewart capitalized on it with a 24-yard pass to receiver Brandon Hayes to put Oak Grove into the lead 14-7 after the PAT.
With 90 seconds remaining, Oak Grove had the ball deep in their territory due to a Petal punt. An Oak Grove fumble with seconds remaining gave the Panthers the ball on the Warrior 12. Nate Jones booted the ball 28-yards through the uprights to draw within four as both teams went into the lockers for halftime.
Petal opened the second half with a bang as Rashad Handford returned the second half kick 75 yards to the Oak Grove 17. The Warriors stood tall though, forcing Petal to trot Jones back onto the field to knock in a 34-yard field goal to bring the score 14-13 still in favor of the Warriors.
The Warriors appeared to have a promising drive going until Petal’s Jonathan Harris stepped in front of a Warrior receiver to pick-off a Stewart pass. Harris returned the ball to the Panther 26.
Petal could not make anything of the turnover on offense; however, they pulled a rabbit from the hat as punter Alex Dean threw the ball to Micah Cherry on a fake punt pass. Cherry stormed down the field for a 58-yard touchdown. A successful two-point conversion gave Petal a 21-14 lead with 2:20 to play in the third quarter.
With 10:20 remaining in the fourth quarter Stewart connected with Tavion Smith for a 12-yard touchdown pass, tying the game 21-21. Just plays later, Nicholson’s pass was intercepted by linebacker Zach Little and returned over 50 yards for a Warrior pick-six, giving Oak Grove a 28-21 lead with 9:22 remaining in the contest.
The Panthers weren’t done yet, though.
In a matter of 87 seconds, Petal stormed down the field, capping off the drive with a McGowan touchdown from inside the five-yard line. The game was once again knotted up, this time 28-28, with 7:00 minutes remaining.
Oak Grove, resilient as ever, came back onto the field to try and put something together. Running back Nick Milsap answered the call with a 39-yard rush to put Oak Grove in Panther territory. That run helped set up a 20-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to Smith, their second touchdown connection of the night.
“He [Smith] has a different type of mentality and talent that most receivers do. He has that size and has that dog mentality. When you have that dog mentality, it works. We can lock eyes on the field when I scramble, and we can make a connection somehow,” said Oak Grove’s Stewart.
Petal had one last chance to tie the game, but a bad snap sailed over Nicholson’s head. A scuffle for the ball came up empty for the Panthers with Oak Grove recovering the ball and draining the remaining minute off the clock, sealing their victory and second-straight 6A South State Championship.
Causey applauded Smith and his other wide-receivers who played well tonight.
“Tavion is special. Someone is going to get a heck of a player next season. He’s a talented kid, and the way our offense works, you can’t just focus on him. You have to focus on Brandon because if you don’t focus on him, he will beat you over the top. Jordan Coleman beat them over the top too. If you focus on them, Eric and Liam are going to beat you up underneath on quick passes and things like that. I like our team.”
Oak Grove’s two touchdowns between Smith and Stewart with Little’s pick-six sandwiched between grabbed all the second-half momentum for the Warriors.
Player of the Game
Tavion Smith’s two touchdown receptions propelled Oak Grove to the win. He was a constant threat throughout the game.
Oak Grove moves to 11-3 overall on the season and will square off with Oxford, who is 13-1 overall next Friday at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Petal finishes their season 12-2 overall, having had an outstanding year.