Oak Grove beats rival Petal to advance to 6A South State

By CAMAL PETRO,

HATTIESBURG – Friday night was only the second ever playoff game for most of the Oak Grove players, but the pressure in a tight second half game didn’t overwhelm the Warriors.

Led by senior John Rhys Plumlee’s 364 yards of total offense and six total touchdowns, the Oak Grove Warriors shut down the comeback bid of rival Petal with a 48-35 win over the Panthers. The Warriors now advance to play Brandon in the 6A South State Championship game, which will be played in Brandon.

Playing in a playoff atmosphere doesn’t affect Oak Grove’s senior quarterback, though. It’s just another game.

“I’m not really one to get nervous or freak out before a game,” Plumlee said. “I’m doing something I love to do. Especially with this team, there are no jitters; there’s no panic. Maybe in the first playoff game, we were kind of excited, but we treat it one week at a time.”

With the game tied at 28 in the fourth quarter, Plumlee scored two rushing touchdowns and senior running Jarius Smith added another one to keep a lead over Petal. Plumlee had a 7-yard score to retake the 35-28 lead, then Smith scored from the 33-yard line to go up by two touchdowns midway through the final frame.

After Petal cut the Oak Grove lead to 42-35, Plumlee brought down the house with an 80-yard rushing score to ice the game. Oak Grove coach Drew Causey joked after the game that the play was called “Run, Johnny, run”.

“It was one of those when you knew it from about 5 yards out that he was going to score,” Causey said. “(He’s done that) a few times. Not just him, but everybody played well.”

The 80-yard score was reminiscent of Plumlee’s 95-yard touchdown run in a loss to Petal last year. Both were untouched quarterback runs up the middle, but Friday night’s run was on the bigger stage.

“That 80-yard run kind of felt familiar,” Plumlee said. “We weren’t coming up short again.”

Oak Grove built a 28-7 lead in the first half, but Petal clawed its way back into the game with three straight scores in the second, third and fourth quarters to make it a ballgame.

Petal junior quarterback DeCarlos Nicholson completed an 11-yard fade pass to senior Trent Williams late in the final minute of the second quarter. Then, after Petal received the kickoff to start the second half, the Panthers traveled 59 yards on nine plays to cut it to 28-21, as junior running back Rashad Handford scored from the 8-yard line. Handford tied the game with another rushing score to start the fourth quarter, this time from 14-yard line.

Oak Grove never panicked, however. A few Oak Grove players did get called for personal foul penalties, but the Warriors’ offense found pay dirt when they needed a score.

“We had to calm our guys down,” Causey said. “It kind of got chippy when they scored on one drive, and we were driving the football and one of our offensive linemen got a little chippy. We just calmed them down and said, ‘Look, they haven’t stopped us all night. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing, and if we block like we’re supposed to block then we’ll be fine.’”

Oak Grove needed just five plays to regain the lead, ending with the 7-yard score from Plumlee. On Smith’s 33-yard touchdown gallop, the Warriors only needed four plays on the drive to extend the lead, and the touchdown run came on a fourth-and-2 play.

Smith added his second 100-yard game of the season with 125 yards and the touchdown on 23 carries, and it’s only his third game back from injury, too.

Senior receiver Kevin Barnett played in his second game back from injury, and he caught seven passes for 83 yards and two scores. His touchdowns came in the first quarter to help Oak Grove jump up 14-7.

The 6A South State Championship is set for Friday at 7 p.m. in Brandon.

“It feels good,” Causey said. “We’re glad to be playing another week.”