While Oak Grove has torched teams through its passing game this season, the Warriors turned to the ground and forced key turnovers on defense to power past Harrison Central 41-14.
Oak Grove now heads back to the South State championship game for the third consecutive year.
“I’m really proud of our whole team and the way they played, coaches including,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said.
The Warriors’ backfield duo of Courtland Harris and Eugene Newell led the team’s offensive production. With nine carries each, the backs combined for 153 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Warriors improved from recent their performances. While Oak Grove allowed over 350 rushing yards last week against Biloxi, they contained the Red Rebels to just 98 rushing yards.
“Our defense played really well and (I’m) just really proud of the way they flew around and just flew to the football tonight,” Causey said. “I thought Dontavious (Howard) had a heck of a game. He took the lead on covering number two (Jacobi Moore) for them and I thought he did a tremendous job.”
Oak Grove did struggle to contain Harrison Central’s passing attack at times in the game, allowing multiple long completions. Quarterback Christian Turner threw for 285 yards and one touchdown on 14 completions out of 29 attempts. Receivers Jacobi Moore and Isaiah Atkins combined for nearly all of Turner’s passes. Atkins caught six passes for 79 yards and Moore had seven receptions for 204 yards and a touchdown.
“I think with what we do defensively, you’re going to see a few big plays here and there, but just really, we’re going to try to improve on everything,” Causey said.
Linebacker Dazerick Patton found himself in the right place at the right time twice in the game. He recovered two fumbles and returned them both for touchdowns.
“There’s a lot of talks about our defense and how we’re not good enough to win a championship and we just wanted to come out tonight by making plays, hitting them in the mouth and not letting them score,” Patton said.
Despite the final scoreboard indicating a runaway game, the match was tightly contested in the first half.
After a scoreless first quarter, Oak Grove added three points on a 31-yard field goal by Michael Owens. The lead lasted less than a minute as the Red Rebels drove more than 80 yards in just four plays. Running back Jaidon McClain scored on a six-yard run to give Harrison Central a 7-3 lead in the middle of the second quarter.
However, Oak Grove took control for the remainder of the half as it turned to running the ball. The Warriors reclaimed the lead on a 31-yard run from Newell as Harris stretched the score to 17-7 on a one-yard run before halftime.
“The first couple series, I didn’t think we played really well and then we kind of found something in there and I think that was really what just got us going,” Causey said. “We were able to run the football. We got to the edges a few times and those guys played well.”
At the beginning of the second half, Oak Grove’s defensive front started to penetrate Harrison Central’s offensive line. Linebacker Zach Little recorded two straight sacks; on the second sack, he forced Turner to fumble. Patton recovered the fumble and returned it for a touchdown to make it 24-7.
“At halftime, we were just talking about coming out and keeping that intensity (and) turning it up a notch,” Patton said.
The Red Rebels narrowed the score to 24-14 in the beginning of the fourth quarter with a 49-yard touchdown pass from Turner to Moore. On the first play of the next drive, Barnett responded by throwing for his lone touchdown of the game to receiver Tyrell Pollard for 71 yards.
As the Warriors’ defense made consecutive stops against Harrison Central, the offense began to run out the clock. Owens added one more score for Oak Grove’s offense on a 47-yard field goal.
“He’s (Owens) definitely a weapon kicking it in the end zone and then making a 47-yard field goal was really big too,” Causey said.
With under a minute remaining, Patton recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown on an almost identical play from his first recovery to make the final score 41-14.
“I had just a whole bunch of excitement and I was just happy because it was at the end of the game and I was just running on fumes at that point,” Patton said. “I didn’t expect for it to happen that way when it happened. All glory to God, honestly. I’m just happy we get to play another week.”
Oak Grove will play Northwest Rankin next Friday at home.
“We’ve got a very, very tough team to play, especially the team you’ve got to play twice,” Causey said. “We’re going to have a great week of practice.”