Horn Lake outlasts Oak Grove in 6A State ChampionshipBy CAMAL PETRO,
HATTIESBURG – Friday night was the most difficult loss Oak Grove coach Drew Causey has ever been associated with, and for good reason.
The Oak Grove Warriors fell to the Horn Lake Eagles 31-27 in the 6A State Championship, ending the Warriors season 12-3 overall while Horn Lake finished the season with a perfect 15-0 record.
“Yeah, definitely,” Causey said when asked if it was the toughest loss he’s experienced.
The Warriors held the lead at two key points of the game, including early in the fourth quarter. Oak Grove had the ball near midfield facing a fourth-and-2 when Oak Grove quarterback John Rhys Plumlee went back to punt the ball. As the team’s punter, he has the option to tuck the football and try to pick up the first down himself.
With the 27-24 lead and 11:50 to play, Plumlee saw an opening up the middle but he was stuffed by the Horn Lake defense. The Eagles got the ball back and marched 44 yards on 11 plays in four and a half minutes to regain the lead, 31-27.
Causey doesn’t fault his senior for trying to make the play on fourth down, though.
“We told him when we started our punt that he had the green light. If he thought he had the first down, get it,” Causey said. “He thought he could make a play.
“It wasn’t anything that was called, but we gave him the green light in August.”
The two teams traded scores throughout the contest, but it was Horn Lake’s touchdown with 7:19 to go that put it on top for good. The Eagles scored two touchdowns and a field goal on their first three possessions, too, but the Oak Grove defense settled down in the two middle frames.
“We just kind of settled down,” Causey said. “We settled down and got to playing our style of football. They have an unbelievable team, and we did our best to slow them down.”
Horn Lake scored two touchdowns through the first eight minutes of the game, but Oak Grove held it to just a field goal the rest of the half. During that time, Oak Grove jumped up 20-17 by the break.
Trailing 14-7, an Oak Grove punt resulted in a fumble by the Horn Lake return man, and it set the Warriors up at Horn Lake’s 39-yard line. Plumlee needed a big fourth-down conversion to keep the drive alive, and he found junior Liam Breithaupt on fourth-and-9 for a 38-yard score. Breithaupt caught a contested pass, then scooted up the left sideline for the score.
After Horn Lake’s field goal, and with 2:26 left in the half, Plumlee found senior Kevin Barnett for a 55-yard score to give the Warriors their first lead of the game, 20-17.
Oak Grove needed Plumlee to make plays throwing the ball, because the rushing attack was stopped by Horn Lake all night. The Warriors only had 31 yards on the ground while Plumlee passed for 348 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
“We knew coming in we were going to have a hard time running the football because their front seven is so dominant,” Causey said. “We knew we were going to throw coming into the game. We felt like our best formation was when we lined up in empty, and it was.”
In the second half, Horn Lake’s defense buckled down when the offense made plays in crucial points of the game. Horn Lake rushed for 245 yards and passed for another 175, as quarterback Raydarious Jones contributed 258 of those yards.
“That was the best team we’ve played all season,” Causey said. “I think it showed how talented they were.”
Horn Lake jumped back ahead late in the third quarter with a 51-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Issac Marquez, then Oak Grove scored a few minutes later to regain the lead.
Plumlee found Barnett for a 30-yard gain on the ensuing drive’s first play, then a pass interference on Horn Lake set up the 15-yard touchdown pass to Barnett’s back shoulder. That gave Oak Grove a 27-24 lead.
Other than that drive, Oak Grove only had 98 total yards in the second half.
Horn Lake, again, answered with a time-consuming drive in the fourth quarter, which ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Patrick Gilliam. That gave Horn Lake the 31-27 lead for good.
Starting their final drive of the night from their own 9, Plumlee and the Warriors had one more shot with 2:30 to go. After getting Oak Grove to Horn Lake’s side of the field, Plumlee threw his third interception of the season to seal Horn Lake’s win.
Oak Grove finished 2-for-11 on third downs, while Horn Lake was 6-for-17.