For the first 21-plus minutes, it was a methodical chess game being played between the two schools, with plays being made on defense and Lafayette playing keep away on offense.
Then chaos ensued.
Oxford ultimately ended up being on the positive side of the outcome despite the number of mistakes made by the Chargers during the chaos, because Lafayette quarterback Tyrus Williams was ejected for an extra hit on an Oxford player during an offensive drive late in the second quarter, turning the tide of the game and had a huge effect in the second half, allowing Oxford to take its eighth Crosstown Classic in their last nine attempts with a 33-22 victory over the Commodores.
Oxford (2-0 overall) took the lead first on a pair of wide receivers making plays. Quarterback Michael Harvey found Jalen Webb for 28 yards with Webb doing most of the work making Commodore defenders miss tackles to get a first down on third down. On the next play, Harvey found Jay Wortham who broke two tackles and found the end zone from 15 yards out. Oxford’s two-point conversion failed, but led 6-0 with 4:01 left in the first quarter.
Lafayette (1-1) after twice having to turn the ball over on downs inside Oxford’s 35 was finally able to strike with an 11-yard Williams scramble to tie the game.
Then all the chaos began.
On the ensuing point-after attempt, Williams botched the handle on the snap, but had some quick-thinking to get up from his holding position and find an open Derrick Burgess for two, giving Lafayette an 8-6 lead with 2:37 left in the half.
Oxford’s Tristan Shorter had a great return on the ensuing kickoff, only to have it stripped from him and recovered by Lafayette at their own 45. On the next play, Brandon Toles executed a reverse 55 yards and gave the Commodores a 15-6 lead with 2:12 left.
Lafayette then line drives the next kickoff into the back of an Oxford player and recovered at midfield, with all the momentum clearly siding with the Commodores.
Two plays later, all of that momentum quickly shifted as Williams had to handle a bad snap and was swarmed by Oxford defenders, causing him to simply go down without being hit, but then got up after giving himself up and gave an extra hit to an Oxford defender. The referees deemed Williams made an excessive action on the hit and ejected him from the game.
The momentum shifted wasn’t felt instantly though as Lafayette back-up quarterback Taylor Tarver recovered all the penalty yards and then some with a 30-yard pass on the next play. Three plays later, Jayden Reed was able to punch it in from a yard out and extend the Commodore lead to 22-6 with 20 seconds left.
“It’s a tough night, you know,” Lafayette head coach Michael Fair said. “I don’t know much that kinda went our way from the end of the second quarter on. We took some big time punches out there. We didn’t always respond like I thought we should have.”
It was Lafayette who made the next special teams mistake as their next kickoff was a line drive straight to Kortlen Wilfawn who caught it at Oxford’s 49 and taking just one second off the clock, allowing the other Oxford quarterback Trip Maxwell to execute officially a two-play, 51-yard drive with three passes to Jalen Webb, one generated a pass interference call, and capped with a eight yard catch with just one second until halftime allowing Oxford to recapture some momentum and trailed Lafayette 22-13 at halftime.
“We obviously had a rough four or five minutes to end the second quarter,” Oxford head coach Chris Cutcliffe said. “We didn’t panic. We felt like we could regroup and play good football and I thought we did.”
Oxford did regroup as they did take over in the second half, allowing just 86 second half yards on defense against Lafayette’s offense after gaining 310 yards in the first half, obviously with Williams’ ejection being one of the biggest reasons the Chargers took control of the game during the second half.
“He’s obviously such a fantastic player, so talented,” Cutcliffe said of Williams. “I know that’s a big piece of their offense. That did change their game plan a little bit and I think we could adjust accordingly for sure in the second half.”
After getting backed up to their own 15, Oxford’s Maxwell threw a completion to Wortham that got a first down, but Wortham kept breaking tackle after tackle down the Lafayette sideline, eventually breaking free to the end zone for 85 yards, closing the Lafayette lead to 22-19 after Oxford botched the point-after attempt.
On the second play of the ensuing Lafayette possession, Shorter jumped an out route and intercepted Tarver for a 21-yard pick-six, similar to how Shorter scored on a pick-six in the Crosstown Classic last season, and Oxford took back the lead 26-22 with 6:41 left in the third quarter.
On the next Oxford possession, the Chargers capped the scoring with Maxwell throwing a 21-yard touchdown toss to Trynten Brannon, giving Oxford the final margin that they were able to defend throughout the fourth quarter.
“I thought both quarterbacks played well,” Cutcliffe said of Maxwell and Harvey. “They threw the football well. Big time plays from some of our receivers across the board.”
Prior to his ejection, Williams went 11-for-18 for 93 yards while rushing for 44 yards on six carries with a touchdown run. Reed led Lafayette on offense with 21 carries for a game-high 102 yards and a touchdown. Tarver during his time in the game was 4-for-6 for 46 yards and two interceptions. Trikyus Woodall had 11 carries for 55 yards. Kylen Vaughn lead all receivers with 10 receptions for a game-high 105 yards.
Maxwell led the Oxford quarterback tandem with 6-for-9 passing for 168 yards and three touchdowns and an interception. Harvey went 7-for-10 for 60 yards and a touchdown. Roman Gregory led the Charger ground game with six carries for 64 yards, but Omar Howell had double the carries at 12 for 58 yards as the primary ball carrier. Wortham led Oxford receivers with four receptions for 108 yards and two scores.
With the win, Oxford is now on its longest win streak in school history with its 15th straight win, breaking the 14-game win streak that occurred during the 2013 season when Oxford won its first 14 games in a row. The 16-point deficit Oxford faced in the first half is the second-biggest documented comeback in school history, with Oxford’s 18-point comeback against Oak Grove last year being the biggest.
Oxford has a bye week next week. The Chargers will take on Southaven on the road in two weeks to start Division 1-6A play. Lafayette will face Mooreville next week before facing West Point to start Division 1-5A play in two weeks.