PETAL, Miss. (WDAM) - Oak Grove High School came into its Region 3-6A showdown with archrival Petal High School sporting one of the more prolific, yet balanced, offenses in Mississippi.
Yet, Friday night, the Warriors wound up leaning on its ground game to lean on the Panthers in a 37-20 victory at Panther Stadium.
The Warriors (4-0, 2-0 region) are unbeaten after four games for the first time in Coach Drew Causey’s five year tenure. The Panthers (2-3, 0-2) lost their third, consecutive game.
Oak Grove quarterback Kabe Barnett threw for a pair of touchdowns, one in each half. But Oak Grove ran away from a 17-14 halftime lead by turning to its running game.
“We’re a balanced team, and going to pass the ball,” Oak Grove running back Courtland Harris said. “But if you can’t stop the run, we’re going to pound the ball.”
Which is exactly what the Warriors did in the second half.
In five possessions over the third and fourth quarters, Oak Grove’s offense ran off 27 plays. Twenty-three were running plays.
All told, the Warriors rushed for 252 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries.
Harris said the Warriors' offensive line, which returned four of five starters from the team that won a South State championship and reached the Class 6A state title game a year, made life simple for him and his backfield clone, Eugene Newell Jr.
“They block hard every game, which makes it easy to run behind them,” Harris said.
Harris finished with 132 yards and a score on 21 carries. Newell ran for 95 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
Through the first three games of the season, Oak Grove had been about a 50-50 blend of pass-run, averaging 199 yards through the air and 206 yards on the ground.
Coming into Friday, though, and especially after grabbing the lead, Oak Grove resolved it would rely on the big fellows up front.
“We decided to put the game on our O-line and see if they could control it, and they did,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “Aside from some stupid penalties and an inadvertent whistle, I was really proud of our effort (Friday) night.”
Causey was far from pleased late in the second quarter, when Barnett’s pretty touchdown run of 17 yards was “inadvertently” whistled dead by a referee on the far side of the field from the play.
Casey was furious, and Barnett’s second end-zone interception in a 5-minute span did nothing to mellow his mood.
But the second half should have made Causey feel much better.
The Warriors pulled away from a three-point lead to led by two scores at the end of the third quarter.
Nekhi Cox' 25-yard punt return set the Warriors up at the Panthers' 28-yard line. Four plays later, Barnett punched his way into the front of the end zone on a 5-yard touchdown and a 24-14 lead.
Then, just before the end of the quarter, Oak Grove found itself pinned at its own 13-yard line. Barnett swung a pass out to Tyrell Pollard in the left flat, and the junior did the rest, shaking off one tackle and then outrunning everyone down the visitors' sideline to push the Warriors' lead to 30-14.
Pollard would finish with six catches for 124 yards.
After Petal closed to 30-20 with 11:35 to play on a 65-yard strike from Jackson Allen to Jonathan Harris, the Warriors mounted a seven-play, 56-yard drive that rubbed four-plus minutes off the clock.
Harris popped an 18-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 play to leave Oak Grove ahead by 17 points with 7:17 to play.
The first half saw Oak Grove win the time-of-possession category handily, but Petal made enough big plays on both sides of the ball to stay within striking distance.
Newell’s 10-yard run late in the first quarter gave Oak Grove a 7-0 lead only to see Petal get within a point at the end of the period on Jeremiah Robinson’s 78-yard dash through the heart of the Warriors' defense.
A 21-yard field goal by Michael Owens bumped the lead to 10-6 early in the second quarter and the Warriors went up by 11 points on their next possession when Barnett found Ahkem Toy with a 14-yard touchdown pass off play-action.
Petal immediately answered, moving 80 yards. Allen completed his first pass of the game on a 39-yard strike to Harris. A pass interference penalty moved the Panthers to the Oak Grove 29.
Robinson, who finished with 150 yards rushing on 17 carries, duplicated his first touchdown run, this time from abut a third of the distance, slicing through the middle again to reach the end zone. His two-point conversion run pulled the Panthers within 17-14.
Oak Grove saw two scoring chances go awry in the closing minutes of the second quarter, when Micah Cherry and Kaden Dukes came up with interceptions on fade routes to the corner of the end zone.
Barnett would complete 11-of-23 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Allen completed 9-of-19 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown with an interception.
Cherry finished with two catches for 71 yards and a score, while Harris had four grabs for 77 yards.
Petal High coach Marcus Boyles declined comment after the game, leaving the Warriors to have their say.
“We really wanted to come in and get after them, and I think we did that in the second half,” Oak Grove middle linebacker Zach Little said. “It’s rivalry game. It’s always fun. It’s always fun to play Petal and it’s always fun to win.”