For Oak Grove, the dominant 66-27 win over Hattiesburg was meant to be a statement.
After being tied 7-7 early on the first quarter, the Warriors quickly put up 38 unanswered points to take a 45-7 halftime lead.
Oak Grove’s statement was backed behind aggressive special teams plays, an explosive offense and a defense that practically took away the Tigers’ run game.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “We wanted to make a statement, and I feel like we did.
“I feel like we executed. I think we could have had two more touchdowns in the first half. We turned the ball over on the goal line, and it pops up and fumbles. Then we don’t score another touchdown so that’s something we have to correct, but I like our energy and our effort. Our guys came to play tonight.”
The two teams traded touchdowns early in the first quarter with Oak Grove running back Courtland Harris scoring on a 1-yard run and then Hattiesburg quarterback Jermaine Powell following with a 67-yard touchdown pass.
Oak Grove quarterback Kabe Barnett answered two plays later with a 53-yard touchdown pass. After Barnett’s touchdown, Hattiesburg’s breakdown unfolded after a quick three and out, the Warriors blocked a punt with Zach Little picking it up to extend the Warrior lead 21-7.
Oak Grove blocked two more punts on the Tigers’ next two consecutive drives, which resulted in a 24-yard field goal and another 1-yard touchdown run by Harris, who finished the night with 58 yards.
At the same time, Oak Grove dominated field position as its placekicker Michael Morris kicked as many as eight touchbacks on the night with six coming in the first quarter. The Tigers notably started at their 20-yard line for nine of its drives.
Hattiesburg was never able to establish its run game with poor field position, which, according to Little, was due to the plays on specials teams.
“(Hattiesburg was) really just trying to stick to one thing and really just drive it down our throats,” Little said. “They realized that it didn’t work, so they tried some other things. I think a big part of it was our punt blocks. That really helps when they can’t punt the ball. Mentally, if you can’t punt the ball, then nothing is going right for you. That was a big part tonight too.”
Hattiesburg went three and out four times in the first half. The Tigers rushed for 148 yards off 28 carries; notably, 80 of those yards came later in the second half from an 80-yard run.
“We knew that they were going to be physical, and they are probably the most physical team that we will play,” Little said. “They were really just trying to force that quarterback run out to the left with the half back pulling and the running back lead blocking. We just had to plug it at the line of scrimmage. If we didn’t set the edge for them, then they got outside for us. They got the long runs. Once we realized that we had to stop that, then that’s when we did well.”
After the half, Oak Grove continued to control the game as Barnett threw his third touchdown pass on the night to extend the lead 52-7. Barnett finished 13-of-19 and threw three touchdowns and 269 yards along with a 5-yard rushing touchdown.
“Quarterback play was really good,” Causey said. “The offensive line did a great job of keeping (Barnett) clean. I think he got hit one time all night. They give him time to throw the football, and he is going to find the open receiver. He did a great job. We only had one drop tonight so that’s better than last week. We’re going to keep going and see if we can get better.”
After Barnett’s fourth touchdown, the Warriors played its second-string players for the rest of the night. Oak Grove reached the end zone two more times with backup quarterback Michael Pollard scoring on a 14-yard run and throwing a 47-yard touchdown pass.
Hattiesburg didn’t score again until late in the third quarter with running back Jaquez Andrews scoring on an 80-yard run. In the fourth quarter, Hattiesburg wide receiver Josh Jones reached the end zone twice on 38-yard and 67-yard touchdown catches.
Despite the late touchdowns, Causey believes all of Hattiesburg’s late touchdowns were valuable learning experiences for his younger players.
“The first touchdown looked like (their quarterback) threw it over the guy’s head, and the guy that was blocking just happened to turn around and catch it and score,” Causey said. “The other three touchdowns came in the second half, and we had subbed some guys out, and things happened. We had some second string and junior varsity guys in there, and it was just a learning experience for our guys that normally don’t play for us on Friday nights.”