CLINTON – The Oxford Chargers have trailed 22-13, 28-8, 20-13, 6-0, and 17-15 in the second half of games this season alone. Oxford won all of them.
Now you can add 20-10 to that list.
Oxford recovered from a 10-point second half deficit and made a defensive stand late to defeat the Clinton Arrows 31-27 in the Class 6A North Half Championship game Friday night at Arrow Field. The Chargers advance to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium next Friday night at 7 p.m. to face the South Half champion Oak Grove Warriors in a rematch of last year’s 6A title game.
“That was a heck of a ball game,” Oxford coach Chris Cutcliffe said after winning their 25th game in a row, which is now the longest active winning streak in the state of Mississippi. “Clinton is a really good football team. I think it was just back-and-forth all night and we were able to make enough plays in the end to get it done.”
In typical fashion this season, Oxford (12-0 overall) came back using a combination of a defensive score along with some timely offensive drives. After going down 20-10, the Chargers used a 10-play, 61-yard drive capped with a Michael Harvey 8-yard pass to Jay Wortham on a crossing route. After a Jack Tannehill made extra point, Oxford trailed 20-17 with 4:19 left in the third quarter.
On the first play of the ensuing Clinton (10-3) drive, Arrow quarterback Caleb Miller was strip-sacked by Jamarri Sims and Alex Sanford picked up the fumble and rumbled 10 yards to give Oxford a 24-20 lead with 4:01 left in the third quarter.
“Takeaways were huge,” Cutcliffe said about being plus-three in the turnover margin Friday. “We stopped some drives with that. We just made enough plays in the end. They’re a really talented team. Their quarterback (Miller) is a heck of a player.”
Miller finished 13-for-29 for 236 yards with three touchdowns, but three costly interceptions including one to Tristian Shorter who recorded his fourth pick-six of the season on the opening play of the second quarter to give Oxford a 10-0 lead. Jack Tannehill booted through a 38-yard field goal to give Oxford a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter.
But after throwing his third interception 16 minutes into the game, Miller settled down and led the Clinton offense to 20 straight points, the first of which he found receiver Jordyn Battee from 16 yards out to cut Oxford’s lead to 10-7 with 4:24 left until halftime.
After forcing a turnover on downs, Clinton went on a 4-play, 55-yard drive that ended with a Miller 1-yard run to give Clinton the lead 14-10 entering halftime. Miller also rushed for 126 yards on 26 carries in addition to his 236 yards in the air.
Clinton then took the opening drive of the second half 80 yards on eight plays capped with a 45-yard pass from Miller to Carsson Deyoung. The PAT sailed wide right, but Clinton led Oxford 20-10 with 8:02 left in third quarter.
After the aforementioned back-to-back scores that gave Oxford the lead back at 24-20, both teams had long drives that ended with the ball going to the other team on downs. On Clinton’s next possession after that, the Arrows went on an 8-play, 44-yard drive and on fourth-and-six Miller found Battee again from eight yards out to give Clinton a 27-24 lead with 4:55 left in the contest.
Then Howell went to work for Oxford, using him exclusively on the ground on a 6-play, 64-yard drive aided with a five yard face mask penalty during the drive and capped with a 3-yard run for the go-ahead score with 3:03 left in regulation.
“Omar is a physical runner,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s a guy that I think is harder to tackle as the game wears on and I was really proud with how he played. I thought our guys up front did a great job. Omar played physical all night.”
Clinton dinked and donked down the field on their last possession until reaching Oxford’s 25 with 50 seconds left, but without a timeout remaining the Arrows bailed on their strategy and went for the end zone, which resulted in four incompletions, the last with a broken up pass by Shorter, to give Oxford the victory.
Howell finished the game with career-highs of 30 carries for 211 yards and a touchdown. It is Oxford’s first individual 200-yard rushing game since Kenzie Phillips had 221 against Pearl in the 2014 North Half game.
“He knew more was going to fall on his plate,” Cutcliffe said noting Roman Gregory was out for the game. “Cam McJunkins came in a got us a few carries here and there. Jay Wortham came in and got us a few carries. Omar did a great job of stepping up and being the man.”
Oxford as a team finished with 294 yards on the ground, and Cutcliffe noted that the Arrow defense was paying more attention to their passing game playing just three linemen up front. Harvey last week threw for a career-high 223 yards against Hernando last week. It was more about Oxford’s offense taking what the Clinton defense gave them.
“Clinton does a great job playing guys,” Cutcliffe said. “They’re really playing eight-man coverage most of the night, a three-safety defense a high percentage of the time. We knew we needed to be patient and run the football. I was real proud of our guys for doing it.”
With Oak Grove defeating Northwest Rankin 43-24, the Class 6A Title game rematch is set despite the unpredictability of the 2020 football season with COVID-19 wrecking havoc on many football teams this season.
“This has been the craziest season any of us has ever been a part of, but our guys have continued to improved as the season has gone on,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s what we’ve asked them to do. Control what we can control. Let’s have great practices, let’s have great lifting sessions, let’s have great meeting time, great film work, and let’s just keep getting better and still our challenge (next) week. We know we have a really tough test next week.”
- This was Oxford’s first true road playoff game as a member of Class 6A, having played all six of their previous non-title playoff games at Bobby Holcomb Field. Oxford’s last playoff road game was in 2016 at Grenada while in Class 5A. Grenada will be a region opponent for Oxford next season.
- This was Oxford’s first North Half playoff win on the road all-time, having lost their only other such road trip in 2005 at West Point for 4A North Half.
- Howell’s 211-yard game was the first 200+ individual rushing performance since Kenize Phillips rushed for 221 against Pearl in 2014. Phillips rushed for 200+ yards three times that season.
- This was the first all-time meeting between Oxford and Clinton. The two will be region opponents for the next two years.