Despite defensive troubles, Oak Grove fought past Biloxi 54-34 with a strong offensive performance by quarterback Kabe Barnett and company to advance to the next round of the 6A playoffs.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up but give Biloxi a lot of credit,” Head Coach Drew Causey said. “They’ve got a heck of a football team. I said all week how big and fast and physical they are and hats off to them. They did a great job against us and I’m just proud of our guys for finishing the game off like we should have.”
Barnett led the Warriors’ offense, throwing for 232 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 15 completions of 21 attempts. Barnett also rushed for 38 yards and a touchdown.
“I felt like except for the interception he had, I thought he threw the ball really well tonight,” Causey said. “He missed a couple throws late that he could have hit but all in all, he did a good job to take care of the football and I’m just proud of him.”
Oak Grove allowed the most points it had in a single game this season. The Warriors struggled to stop Biloxi's rushing attack. Running back KK Kendrick finished with a season-high of 350 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries before going down with an injury late in the fourth quarter.
“I didn’t feel like we played very good on defense tonight at all,” Causey said. “We didn’t tackle well, didn’t set the edge and come off hard and we gave up way too many big plays. “(Kendrick) he’s a heck of a football player and he’s really talented,” Causey said. “In my opinion, he ran all over us so it’s something we really got to clean up if we want to keep playing so we’ve got to play a lot better.
Kendrick and the Indians started the game strong by scoring first on a two-play, 65-yard drive. Kendrick rushed for a 31-yard touchdown for his first score of the game. The Warriors set the pace for the game by responding to the Indians’ touchdown. The Warriors capitalized off of a deep kickoff return with a goal-line rush by Barnett just two minutes later to tie the game 7-7.
After Ahkem Toy blocked Biloxi’s punt, the Warriors continued to orchestrate on offense. Barnett threw to five different receivers on a seven-play drive, capping it off with a 15-yard touchdown to Michael Reese to give the Warriors a 14-7 lead.
However, on the Warriors’ next drive, Barnett threw an interception to Aiden Harrison. The Indians took advantage of the turnover and tied the game 14-14 with a goal-line keeper by quarterback Tristan Pearson.
On the next drive, Tyrell Pollard, the Warriors’ leading receiver, started rolling by catching two passes for a combined 43 yards. Pollard finished the drive with a 12-yard touchdown reception to put the Warriors up 21-14.
The Warriors’ lead lasted less than a minute, though, as Kendrick hit an open hole and broke free for a 76-yard touchdown to tie the game again.
The Warriors avoided falling behind and scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the quarter. Courtland Harris scored on a one-yard touchdown and on the team’s next offensive possession, Pollard caught a 49-yard touchdown to give the Warriors a 34-21 halftime lead.
Any hopes for a second-half comeback by Biloxi were squashed as Oak Grove scored three touchdowns in the third quarter while limiting the Indians to one. Trayvon Moore explained how the team came out energized after halftime.
“We came in at halftime and just got in each other’s heads and talked and just made it clear that we had to win,” Moore said.
Moore scored the first touchdown of the second half on a trick play pass from Harris at the goal line. Later, cornerback Jaylen Aborom intercepted Pearson and returned it 70 yards for a score to extend the Warriors’' lead 47-21. Biloxi was able to score after Kendrick broke free for his second 76-yard rush of the game. A few plays later, he ran past the goal line for his third touchdown.
At the end of the quarter, Harris ran for another touchdown on a 34-yard rush to put the Warriors up 54-27.
The Indians scored the final touchdown of the game in the early fourth quarter with a quarterback sneak by Pearson to final the score at 54-34.
Oak Grove will play in the next round of the 6A playoffs next Friday in a home game against Harrison Central. Causey explains his mindset moving forward in the playoffs.
“It’s win or go home,” Causey said. “We’ve gotten beat in the state championship game the last two years and it’s a bad taste in our mouth still. We’ve got a really talented team coming here next week that we got to be ready to play, so it’s not time to celebrate.”