Oak Grove’s dominance on the 2020 season continues as the Warriors will now attempt to defend its South State title for the third year in a row.
“It’s really special,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “You have a group of seniors that all they know is practicing on Thanksgiving and getting to play for championships. I’m really proud of them and our coaches. It’s more about the success they are having than anything that we do as a coaching staff. They have done a great job.”
For the third season in a row as well, Oak Grove will have a rematch in the South State championship game. In 2018, the Warriors faced Brandon, and in 2019, it was Petal. However, the one difference in this year’s matchup compared to the last two seasons is that Oak Grove had lost those matchups in the regular season, whereas the Warriors defeated Northwest Rankin earlier.
“That was something we talked about after the ball game Friday night,” Causey said. “In the past two years, we have been the team that lost in the regular season, and we were kind of a little more hungry to win those ball games because we lost in the regular season. We know that’s exactly how Northwest Rankin is right now.
“We are making sure that (we) are focused on handling business and not just assuming because you won a ball game earlier in the season that you are going to walk out there and win. We have got to execute and play our best football this Friday night.”
In the last matchup, Oak Grove (11-0) defeated the Cougars 56-30 for the region championship. In that game, quarterback Kabe Barnett threw four touchdowns and 199 yards and finished 14 of 15 while also rushing for 100 yards.
Oak Grove’s defense was just as dominant as it held Northwest Rankin to 52 rushing yards and quarterback Caleb Parten to 11 of 20, 196 yards, one touchdown and an interception while being sacked nine times.
In Oak Grove’s 41-14 second-round win over Harrison Central, Causey credited both his defense and special teams performances. While the defense stepped up after giving up 34 points to Biloxi in the first round, Oak Grove’s kicker Michael Owens has been a key difference in the Warriors’ season.
Against Harrison Central, Owens kicked a 47-yard field goal. On the season, Causey estimates that Owens kicks a touchback at least 90% percent of the time.
“I’ll say this our defense and special teams ended up winning the ball game Friday night,” Causey said. “I felt like Michael Owens had a heck of a ball game. One was for 47 yards and made every extra point. He kicks almost every kickoff five to six yards deep in the end zone. Then he punted really well in the few times we did punt. He was huge on flipping the field and just making clutch kicks for us.”
In Northwest Rankin’s (9-3) playoff run, the Cougars defeated Ocean Springs 17-14, and then last week upset undefeated D’Iberville 29-28. The Cougars staged a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback over D’Iberville to punch its ticket to South State.
“They run basically the same stuff on offense and defense that they ran. They are definitely a scary team because they have a ton of talent.
“We have to limit their big-play capability. They had a couple of big plays on us that went for touchdowns. They got an onside kick coming out of halftime. There’s a lot of areas that we can improve on. For us, our job is to focus on our execution and not really concern ourselves with who we are playing this week but try to be the best, you can no matter who you are playing.”