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Trick play, defense earn Oak Grove first title

Roderick Sims (3), Cam Myers (6) and Picasso Nelson Jr. (7) lift the state trophy after defeating Tupelo, 14-7, in the MHSAA Class 6A State Championship Friday night at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. (Photo by Matt Bush)

Oak Grove receiver Logan Scott holds up the football after making the game-winning catch on a fake field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter of the state championship against Tupelo Friday in Jackson. (Photo by Matt Bush)

Oak Grove receiver Jordan Mitchell breaks past a Tupelo defender during Friday night's 14-7 state championship win in Jackson. Mitchell was again a difference maker, catching nine balls for 149 yards. (Photo by Matt Bush)

Oak Grove head coach Nevil Barr (left) and offensive coordinator and former NFL MVP Brett Favre celebrate with the state championship trophy after a 14-7 win over Tupelo in the MHSAA Class 6A title game Friday night in Jackson. It was the first championship win for both coaches. (Photo by Matt Bush)

By JOSH MLOT
Sports Editor

JACKSON—All year long Oak Grove was the epitome of the new wave of football — a five-wide, spread offense that scored a ton of points. But the Warriors won a state title with some playground football — hard-hitting defense and a schoolyard play practically drawn up in the dirt.

Held scoreless in the first half for the first time since Oct. 26 of last season, Oak Grove (14-1) overcame a stiff Tupelo (13-2) defense to strike twice in the third quarter, including a game-winning fake field goal, as the Warriors won the MHSAA Class 6A State Championship 14-7 on Friday night at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.

It is the first football state title in school history, as well as in the 39-year coaching career of head coach Nevil Barr. The Warriors played for the championship twice before, in 2003 and 2009.

“This is awesome,” Oak Grove senior defensive end Taylor Braley said. “Especially being the first ones ever. It’s priceless. We did it for each other and the fans and the community and everyone who has been at Oak Grove before us.”

With six seconds remaining in the third quarter and things knotted at seven, Oak Grove faced fourth-and-1 on the Tupelo 4-yard line. After failing to convert on fourth down twice in the first half, the Warriors lined up for the kick. Except the ball was never booted toward the upright. With quarterback Kirk McCarty working as the holder, he took the snap and lobbed the ball to the left side of the end zone, where Logan Scott had lined up all alone for a wide open, four-yard touchdown that gave the Warriors a 14-7 lead.

It was a play that didn’t exist 24 hours before, instead conceived by assistant coach Bobby DeLeon at three in the morning on game day, sold to a head coach and quarterback who never thought it would work and practiced just once … before it won the Warriors a title.

“It was the scariest throw I’ve ever made,” McCarty said. “It just hung up there.”

Coming into the game all the talk was about the Oak Grove offense and the Tupelo defense, but in the end it was the Oak Grove defense that was the story of the game, forced to come through in a game unlike any other the Warriors have played this season — a low-scoring slugfest.

Oak Grove held the Golden Wave to just 119 yards on the ground, stifling their normally sturdy ground game and getting a pair of interceptions from Trey Sloan to match Tupelo’s stopping unit blow for blow.

Roderick Sims led the Warriors with nine tackles (two for a loss) and Devin Tatum, J.C. Keys and Braley had six apiece.

“We knew Tupelo had one of the best defenses in the state,” Barr said, “but we told our guys to prove that we belong there too.”

Tupelo’s defense was paced by Justin Clifton (12 tackles, one sack) and James Gilleylen (seven tackles).

The Golden Wave offense was led by Quinn Tiggs’ 18 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Daniel Bristow had four carries for 47 yards and was 6-of-15 passing with two interceptions. Jarvis Wilson had two catches for 66 yards.

Despite a slow first half attributed to Tupelo’s defense and the frigid weather, McCarty finished 23-of-40 for 268 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Jordan Mitchell was a difference maker with nine grabs for 149 yards, including critical third-down conversions. Cameron Myers and Logan Scott each had a touchdown catch for the Warriors.

After failing to sustain drives in the first half — due in part to coming up empty twice on fourth down — Oak Grove finally got a spark in the third quarter. The Warrior defense forced a three-and-out to open the second half before the Warriors were finally able to run effectively (Oak Grove ran eight times for a 19-yard loss in the first half), getting a 23-yard burst from Mikel Anderson (10 carries, 59 yards) followed by another rushing first down.

McCarty then found Mitchell on a catch and run through the middle of the field for 24 yards. That play helped set up second-and-goal at the 5, and McCarty threw it up to Cameron Myers. The receiver pulled it down for a 7-0 advantage with 7:55 left in the third.

But Tupelo responded immediately, able to strike big through the air. Bristow completed passes to Rodney McIntosh and Jarvis Wilson — for Wilson, his second big grab down the sideline — before a halfback pass from Tiggs back to Bristow netted 30 yards and set up the Golden Wave with first-and-goal at the Oak Grove 7.

Tupelo then went back to it’s hard-nosed attack, and on third-and-goal Tiggs rumbled four yards to the left side, bouncing off a tackle and crossing the goal line. The extra point made it a 7-7 contest with 5:58 on the third-quarter clock.

Oak Grove’s ensuing possession saw McCarty find Mitchell three times before the senior receiver drew a pass interference call in the end zone. Anderson then ran down to the 5-yard line, but the drive stalled out there, leaving the Warriors to make a gutsy, season-changing call on special teams.

The two sides traded fumbles and defensive stops in the fourth quarter, with Oak Grove ultimately making the biggest stop of its season by forcing the Golden Wave into a three-and-out deep in their own territory.

And when Tupelo got the ball back after a tremendous punt by Luke Little, the Golden Wave had to find a way to drive 95 yards in 1:17. Instead, Sloan picked off Bristow on the first play of the possession to seal the victory.

Little had a banner night, three times punting the ball at least 49 yards and twice pinning Tupelo inside its own 10-yard line.

The first half seemed to point favor toward the Golden Wave, as the two teams competed in a defensive battle. Oak Grove picked up eight first downs in the half, but found itself punting four times and turning the ball over on downs twice more.

Tupelo’s offensive struggles were even worse. The Golden Wave crossed midfield just once, and that was on the back of a 58-yard catch by Wilson down the left sideline. Two plays later Bristow went looking for McIntosh inside the Oak Grove 5, by Sloan bodied up the receiver and nabbed his first interception of the night.

“Coach tells us before every game to come out and play like you’re an all-star,” Sloan said. “That’s what I did tonight.

“I had to stay in front of him. I knew my team needed it, so I had to get on top of it and do what I needed to do.”

Oak Grove’s most frustrating near miss came earlier in the first quarter, as the Warriors dug themselves out of a second-and-27 hole to move down to the Tupelo 10-yard line. But rather than kick a field goal and take an early 3-0 lead, Oak Grove chose to go for it on fourth-and-1. A bad snap — one of multiple problematic snaps in the first half — turned into a 17-yard loss and the Warriors came away with nothing.

A fourth-and-1 arose again in the waning moments of the first half, but Clifton broke up a pass intended for Scott across the middle and the Golden Wave prevented the Warriors from entering the red zone and taking one last first-half shot.

Instead, Oak Grove took its shot later.

Click to see a full PHOTO GALLERY...

NO. 5 OAK GROVE 14,
NO. 7 TUPELO 7

Score by Quarter
Tupelo                       0   0     7   0—  7
Oak Grove                   0   0   14   0—14

Scoring Summary
Third Quarter
OG—Myers 5 pass from McCarty, (Little kick), 7:55.
T—Tiggs 4 run, (Bigham kick), 5:58.
OG—Scott 4 pass from McCarty, (Little kick), :06.

TEAM STATISTICS
T                   OG
First Downs                7                      14
Rushes-Yards               28-119               29-68
Att-Comp-Int               16-7-2               40-23-0
Passing Yards              128                   268
Total Plays-Yards         44-246               69-336
Punts-Avg.                  6-32.3               6-40.0
Fumble-Lost                1-1                    3-1
Penalties-Yards            7-67                  5-53

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
Rushing
Tupelo—Tiggs 18-68, Bristow 4-47, Wilson 3-4, Taylor 1-2, Lucas 1-1.
Oak Grove—Anderson 10-59, McCarty 11-21, Bilal 5-9, Mitchell 1-1, Team 2-(-22).
Passing
Tupelo—Bristow 6-of-15, 97 yds., 2 Ints.; Tiggs 1-1, 31 yds.
Oak Grove—McCarty 23-of-40, 268 yds., 2 TDs.
Receiving
Tupelo—Wilson 2-66, McIntosh 2-10, Bristow 1-31, Tiggs 1-19.
Oak Grove—Mitchell 9-149, Duncan 5-67, Myers 4-27, Scott 4-17.