HERNANDO – The Hernando Tigers played a good football game for 24 minutes Friday night. Unfortunately, the Oxford Chargers plays a good football game for the entire 48 minutes.
Oxford as they have done for the better part of their last eight played games came back from another double-digit deficit to defeat Hernando 37-27 Friday night at Anthony Jenkins Field. The win captures at least a home game for Oxford in the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs that begin November 13.
“There’s no doubt playing at home in the playoffs is a big goal and is a big advantage I think when you get into the playoffs,” Oxford coach Chris Cutcliffe said. “It’s something that we talk about a lot that we want to earn that right to play at home, so we are really proud with what we’ve done so far.”
Oxford (8-0, 6-0 in Division 1-6A) had some trouble getting off the field defensively in the first half, especially when it came to third and fourth downs. Hernando (5-4, 4-2) was 5-for-9 on third down conversions in the first half while also going 2-for-2 on fourth down. In the second half, Hernando was just 2-for-8 on third down and 1-for-3 on fourth down.
“I think that we played more sound in the second half,” Cutcliffe said. “We had less mistakes and had our eyes in the right spot. They’re very talented offensively. Their quarterback is a fantastic player. Those guys are going to make plays sometimes. Defensively in the second half we tackled better and we put more pressure on the quarterback. I think that was a big part of it too.”
Hernando on their second drive of the game put together an 11-play, 66-yard drive capped with a Brody Martin nine yard run. The point after was blocked, but the Tigers struck first leading Oxford 6-0 with 49 seconds left in the first quarter.
Oxford after a short kickoff took the ensuing drive for eight plays covering 37 yards, but was held to a Jack Tannehill 33-yard field goal to cut the lead to 6-3 with 10:54 left in the second quarter.
Hernando on their next drive went 10 plays and covered 76 yards, capped with a Shawn Wade seven yard touchdown run to boost the Tiger lead to 13-3 with 7:00 left until halftime.
The Tigers then decided to kick it deep and attempt to cover the kickoff, but Xavier Walton returned the ensuing kickoff 79 yards to cut the margin back to three points at 13-10 with 6:45 left until halftime.
Hernando kept the momentum on offense going covering a 12-play, 73-yard drive capped with a Zach Wilcke pass to Ryan Smith from 11 yards out to increase the Tiger lead back to 10 at 20-10 with 26 seconds remaining in the first half.
That was just enough time for Michael Harvey and the Oxford offense. Harvey found DK Johnson for 42 yards to get into field goal range. Harvey scrambled for 10 yards before Tannehill booted through a 29-yard field goal at the horn to cut the lead down to one possession at 20-13 at halftime.
“I think we made timely plays in the passing game,” Cutcliffe said about the offense. “I think the biggest issue in the first half was that we didn’t finish drives in the red zone. We moved the ball effectively, but we weren’t able to finish with touchdowns. I think three times where we stalled out and had to attempt field goals. Our big focus was trying to finish drives in the second half.”
After throwing an interception to start the second half, Oxford responded on offense with three straight touchdown drives. The first after a poor Hernando punt traveled 35 yards on eight plays capped with a Omar Howell nine yard dash to tie the game at 20-20. That drive was kept alive by the Hernando defense with back-to-back penalties on a fourth down play by Oxford to hand the Chargers a fresh set of downs.
Hernando was then tagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the touchdown, allowing Oxford to risk an onside kick kicking off from the Tiger 45 and Tristian Shorter was able to fall on the football. Four plays later, it was Roman Gregory who scored from nine yards out on the ground to give Oxford its first lead of the contest at 27-20 with 5:40 left in the third quarter.
On the next Charger drive, Oxford traveled 58 yards on 10 plays, capped with a Harvey pass to Johnson from 15 yards out to give the Chargers some breathing room at 34-20 with 7:23 left in the contest.
Oxford went to the ground game on its next drive after a turnover on downs by Hernando to burn four minutes off the clock. The drive ended with a 24-yard chip shot field goal by Tannehill to give Oxford a three-score margin with 2:15 left. Hernando scored a garbage touchdown with 16 seconds left to provide the final margin.
All that now stands in the way of the 1-seed in the playoffs and the division championship is the Tupelo Golden Wave who will visit Bobby Holcomb Field next Friday.
“It’s where you want to be with this kind of game at the end of the season with something big on the line against a great team,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got to have a great week of preparation, a great week of practice, and we know we have a huge challenge with Tupelo coming to town. We got to be ready to go.”
In a rare off night, Trip Maxwell finished 5-for-9 while in the game for just 16 yards and an interception. Harvey finished 9-for-20 for 132 yards and a touchdown. Gregory had his first 100-yard rushing game in his high school career toting the ball 18 times for 100 yards exactly and one touchdown. Howell had 13 rushes for 65 yards and a score. Johnson led all receivers with four receptions for 62 yards and a score. Wilcke was 20-for-40 passing for 237 yards and two touchdowns for Hernando.