HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) _ Ecstasy and misery stood separated by mere yards Friday night, where tears marking a painful collapse were mirrored by those reaching the promised land for the first time.
Oxford High School erased a 21-3 halftime deficit by outscoring Oak Grove High School 28-0 over the final two quarters to win the Class 6A Mississippi high school football championship 31-21 at M.M. Roberts Stadium on the University of Southern Mississippi campus.
With the win, Oxford (14-1) seized its first-ever state football championship after coming up short in three consecutive Class 5A state title game appearances from 2013-15 and a Class 4A shot in 2003.
Friday night, there was nothing unlucky abut the Chargers’ 13th consecutive victory.
“We’ve been talking about this since I was in the seventh grade, saying we were going to be the class to do it,” said Oxford’s Swiss-Army-knife-of-a-player, 6-foot-4, 280-pound senior J.J. Pegues. “We knew when we got here, we were going to get that done.”
For a happy stretch at halftime, Oak Grove (11-4) appeared to be zooming in on a second-ever state crown to join the one the Warriors won in 2013.
Trailing 3-0, Oak Grove came roaring back in the second quarter on a 27-yard touchdown pass from senior Damon Stewart to senior Tavion Smith, a 2-yard run by junior Eugene Newell (set up by a 54-yard run by senior Nick Milsap) and a razzle-dazzle, fourth-and-3 play that saw Stewart catching a 4-yard scoring pass from sophomore back-up defensive back Quintin Sterling.
Instead, Friday night’s runner-up trophy will join those from 2003, 2009, 2014 and 2018.
“All of them are bitter,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “But I love my players, I love my coaches and I’m proud of every single one of them.’’
Pegues was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. He caught three passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Both scores came in the second half, including a 62-yard catch-and-rumble 58 seconds into the third quarter that ignited the Chargers’ comeback.
He also rushed eight times for 34 yards and came up with a sack of Stewart on the Warriors’ final offensive play of the game.
Oxford senior quarterback John Meagher completed 9-of-12 passes for 107 yards. At halftime, he had completed one pass in five attempts for minus 1 yard.
He also led the Chargers with 152 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Meagher’s 79 yards rushing in the first half comprised 91.8 percent of Oxford’s offense (86 total yards) over the first two quarters.
But he sandwiched TD runs of 23 yards and 25 yards between scoring passes of 62 yards and 21 yards to Pegues in the second half. For good measure, Meagher tossed a 2-point conversion pass to senior tight end Clay Cromwell.
“They got to the edge a few more times in the second half,” Causey said. “At times, they had some bigger bodies on us, and we had a hard time getting off some blocks. They did a good job.”
Leading 21-16, Oak Grove had its last drive of the third quarter stall at the Oxford 20, then was denied from inside the 1-yard line on its first drive of the fourth quarter.
After the goal-line stand, Oxford drove 99 yards for the go-ahead score. Meagher found Pegues for 24 yards to get out of the shadow of the end zone, and two plays later, senior running back K.J. Wadley sped 54 yards into Oak Grove territory.
Two plays later, Meagher found Pegues, and then Cromwell with the conversion, and Oak Grove was trailing for the first time since Jack Tannehill’s 27-yard field goal put the Chargers up 3-0 after one quarter.
Oak Grove went for a fourth-and-1 at its own 29-yard line on its next series and came up short, setting up a four-play drive that saw Pegues run for 21 yards, Oxford lose 21 yards on an unexpected snap, a 3-yard run and, finally, Meagher’s 25-yard run on third-and-goal.
Stewart finished his night having connected on 14-of-28 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked four times.
Milsap picked up 119 yards on 24 carries, while Smith led the receiving corps with six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Senior Brandon Hayes had three catches for 59 yards and senior Liam Breithaupt had two catches for 55 yards.