As the classic saying goes, “Defense wins championships,” and Oak Grove is no exception to that as the Warriors forced five turnovers to rally past Northwest Rankin 43-24 in the 6A South State title game.
“It’s extremely special,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “These opportunities don’t come around every year. The fact that we get to go represent our community and our school, and our great fans that we have is really exciting.
A key part in helping the Warriors punch their third straight ticket to the 6A championship game was sophomore defense back Jaylen Aborom came up with two key interceptions and a fumble recovery in the win.
“Jalen is a sophomore,” Causey said. “He is a kid that we knew that could be really talented in his ninth-grade year. He started off as a wide receiver. We needed some help on that side of the ball on that back end. We moved him over there, and he has done a great job.
“He doesn’t play like a sophomore. I’m glad he is on our team.”
Oak Grove opened the game with a three and out and a fumble on its first two offensive drives. Northwest Rankin took advantage of the fumble and got on the board with a 1-yard touchdown run by Cam Marion.
According to Causey, a combination of the Cougars having a different game plan, the bad weather, and having his team settle all played an early role in the Warriors’ slow start.
“It was the weather, and we weren’t executing up front,” Causey said. “They had a good game plan against us. They did a few things differently. It took us a little bit of time to figure it out.
“I felt like we did a good job of playing great defense and flying to the football to create five turnovers.”
Aborom then began to create momentum as he came up with his first interception off Northwest Rankin quarterback Caleb Parten. Running back, Courtland Harris scored on a 2-yard touchdown run to tie the game 7-7.
The Warriors continued to have success on offense as Oak Grove capped off an 86-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kabe Barnett to move ahead 14-7.
Northwest Rankin fumbled again, and the Warriors took advantage of it with Barnett throwing a 15-yard touchdown to Raheem Fairly and hold a two-possession lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Cougars put themselves back in the game with a 51-yard touchdown pass from Parten and then a 40-yard touchdown run by Marion to take a 21-20 lead.
Oak Grove managed to answer back four plays later as Barnett connected with Fairly on a 24-yard touchdown pass retake the lead 27-21.
Both sides then swapped field goals, but Aborom came up with his second interception, which helped Oak Grove pull away in the fourth quarter. Aborom’s interception set up a 15-yard touchdown from Barnett to Harris and push Oak Grove’s lead 37-24. Barnett finished the game 14 of 23 passed for 148 yards and three touchdowns.
“We just kind of settled down and started executing,” Causey said. “That was the biggest deal to me. We started executing on offense.
“Eventually, we get a few turnovers in that second half. Those interceptions are the difference in the ball game to me.”
Harris then put the game away with his third touchdown of the night, which he scored from 27 yards out to put Oak Grove at 43-24. Harris finished the game with 128 total yards and three touchdowns.
Oak Grove now returns to the state championship for the third year in a row and will rematch Oxford, which defeated Clinton 31-27. The 6A State Championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday at MS Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.