HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - With 2 minutes, 30 seconds, left in the Class 6A state championship football game Friday night, one just waiting for Oak Grove High School senior quarterback John Rhys Plumlee to conjure yet one last scoring drive with a wave of is magic arm.
And sure enough, here came the Warriors, launched from a third-and-14 at their own 5-yard line by a 42-yard completion from Plumlee to junior Tavion Smith, leaving Oak Grove near midfield, trailing Horn Lake High School by four points and sand draining steadily from the hourglass.
A 6-yard completion to junior Liam Breithaupt pushed the Warriors into Eagles’ territory, as both sides of M.M. Roberts Stadium were on their feet, roaring.
The roar quickly split into distinct regions of disappointment and pleasure as a scrambling Plumlee overshot a receiver at about the 15-yard line, the ball sailing another 5 yards into the grateful hands of safety Drew Leverson, who returned the pick to midfield with 1:14 to play.
Unbeaten Horn Lake (15-0) held on for a 31-27 victory over Oak Grove (12-3) in a testy slugfest that swung back and forth between the champions of North State and South State, respectively.
“They had an unbelievable team,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “We did our best to slow them down.”
Horn Lake had entered the game allowing just an average of 10.1 points per game, but had to contend with Plumlee and an Oak Grove team that was averaging 34.7 points per game.
The Eagles turned the Warriors one-dimensional, limiting the Oak Grove to a net 17 yards rushing on 16 carries.
That left the offensive weight on Plumlee and the passing game.
“We decided we’d throw it around a little bit and it worked out a little bit,” Plumlee said. “We just came up short.”
Plumlee completed 18-of-34 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns with the interception near the end.
“He is the best player I’ve ever been around, the best kid I’ve ever been around,” Causey said. “If you said you’d trade me one player for him, I don’t care who it is, I’d take every time.
“He’s the best and I love him.”
Two Warriors caught six passes each, finishing with 100-yard receiving days. Senior Kevin Barnett had a half dozen grabs for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Breithaupt had six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Senior tight end Tyson Keys had an 11-yard touchdown catch.
“Careless errors,” said Barnett, who missed the regular season while recovering from knee surgery. “We got some calls we should have gotten, but didn’t get some calls that we should have, and I think that affected how we played.
“But I think it was a good year. This team, looking back, I can see it was more like a family. We cared about each other.”
Horn Lake, which won the first state football championship in school history, was more balanced offensively that the Warriors, with 245 yards rushing and 175 yards passing.
Senior quarterback Raydarious Jones was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after completing 10-of-15 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns and netting 83 yards rushing on 20 carries.
Fellow senior Patrick Gilliam rushed for 45 yards and two scores on 20 carries, including the game-winning 1-yard run with 7:19 left in the game. Eagles’ sophomore Jamario Harris had 90 yards on nine carries.
Octavius Williams (51 yards) and Jarnoissi Hopson (19 yards) each caught touchdown passes from Jones.
Twice, Horn Lake led by as many as seven points, at 7-0 and at 14-7. But once Oak Grove closed to 14-13 on Breithaupt’s 38-yard TD catch with 1:55 left in a high-scoring first quarter, neither team led by more than four points.
The Warriors, who won a state football championship in 2013, was playing in its fifth title game.
Horn Lake got on the board first, scoring on Gilliam’s 19-yard run in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead.
Plumlee returned the following kickoff to the Horn Lake 41 and capped off a 41-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Keys to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter.
Horn Lake answered with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Hopson to take a 14-7 lead with less than 4 minutes left in the first quarter.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Plumlee found Breithaupt on 4th-and-9 for a 38-yard touchdown pass, but the Warriors missed the extra point to end the quarter trailing 14-13.
After a 21-yard field goal by Horn Lake’s Isaac Marquez bumped the Eagles' lead to 17-13 , Oak Grove took the lead in the second quarter on a 55-yard touchdown pass from Plumlee to Kevin Barnett, Plumlee’s third touchdown pass of the half.
The Warriors took a 20-17 lead into halftime.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter.
Horn Lake scored on a 51-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Williams to take a 24-20 lead before Oak Grove reclaimed the lead on Plumlee’s fourth touchdown pass of the night, a 15-yard pass to Barnett to give the Warriors a 27-24 lead.
The Warriors led going into the final quarter, the Eagles took the lead for good on Gilliam’s second touchdown run of the night, a 1-yard run with just over 7 minutes left in the game to take a 31-27 lead.
Oak Grove responded by quickly driving to the Horn Lake 18-yard line, but a penalty and two sacks forced the Warriors to punt.
The Eagles were forced to punt with 2:30 left to play but managed to pin Oak Grove at its own 9-yard line.
Then with 1:14 to play, Plumlee’s interception ended the Warriors' final chance.