PETRO: Is Oak Grove legit?

By CAMAL PETRO,

I’ve spent the last two Friday nights on the Oak Grove Warriors’ sidelines, and now I’ve been to four of their seven games this season. I was talking to a friend who pays a lot of attention to 6A football and he was surprised when I said Oak Grove was 6-1 and 3-0 in the region.

That’s because it has done it quietly.

Since Oak Grove made those state championship runs, and lost in the second round of the playoffs three years ago, things haven’t been going well for the Warriors. Last season, they started hot but wilted away as region play took a beating on them.

When the Warriors started the season 3-0 then lost to Hattiesburg this season, a lot of people thought the same thing was inevitable. So far, that hasn’t been the case. This time last year, the Warriors were 5-2, so the record isn’t that different than it was last season. It’s just a one-game difference.

But, something feels different. Just look at the first three region games a year ago compared to this year. With quarterback John Rhys Plumlee injured, the Oak Grove offense struggled to score 17 points against George County, then defensively allowed 41 in back-to-back games to Petal and Meridian. The Warriors were 2-1 after those three games, but it wasn’t the prettiest.

In 2018, they’ve dominated George County and Meridian, and won a tight rivalry game with Petal to jump out 3-0.

With four more games left on the regular season schedule, things are setting up nicely for Oak Grove, too. Brandon and Pearl are both 3-0 in the region as well, but both will make October trips to Warrior Field for consecutive contests before closing out the season at Jim Hill. A trip to Terry looms Friday night, though, and the two have played really good games the last two years.

Since the 2016 season, Oak Grove is 3-5 in the last four games of the season against those teams, but there’s no doubt it, this season has a better feeling to it. I don’t know if it’s a state championship feeling, but it’s at least a playoff feeling.

I wrote about the defense after last week’s win over Meridian, and that unit deserved the praise. The Meridian quarterback had given the Warriors fits the last two years, but they shut him down this go-round. Even with injuries on the defensive line, the Wildcats couldn’t even gain 100 yards rushing in the game. Passing wise, the Warriors’ secondary held Meridian to just 91 passing yards while breaking up a handful of passes. It was easily one of the better all-around performances from an Oak Grove defense that I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

Offensively, there’s no doubt Plumlee makes them go. Oak Grove’s offense had “execution” issues through the first couple of possessions, as Oak Grove coach Drew Causey put it after the game. After Plumlee’s 75-yard touchdown run, the offense rolled for most of the game.

I wrote about it and said it on our various shows, but the lack of consistent playmakers on offense still worries me. Plumlee was the leading rusher by more than 100 yards, but a few receivers did step up. I’ve written Liam Breithaupt and Tavion Smith’s name quite a few times this season, and the two had big games Friday night, but they need to do it more often.

Breithaupt has had three games with less than 25 receiving yards and Friday night was Smith’s first varsity 100-yard game. Prior to that, his game-high was 62 yards.

The ingredients are there and the schedule sets up nicely for a good finish to the season, but can the Warriors do it? I’m excited to see how they handle that challenge.

Follow Camal on Twitter via @PineBeltSPORTS or email him: camal@PineBeltSPORTS.com