By Judson Scott
The time is finally here as Oxford High School gets set to play in their fifth state championship game in Hattiesburg Dec. 6 against Oak Grove High School. It is their first state appearance since 2015.
The Chargers look to break a streak of four consecutive losses in the state championship game, resulting in the school never winning a football state championship.
The Chargers are riding high after an upset victory over rival Starkville High School in the 6A North Half Championship game on Friday, Nov. 27. The win over Starkville came with a sense of revenge after Starkville bested Oxford earlier in the season 45-17.
The win for Oxford was their first over Starkville since 2013.
“This time, Oxford was more prepared to stop Starkville’s fast-paced offense,” Jared Redding, the assistant editor for divisions and features for the sports news network SES Mississippi, said. “In the previous meeting, Starkville got to the edge so fast early in the game that Oxford couldn’t get there in time to prevent giving up six-plus yards on those plays. They solved that issue in emphatic fashion this past Friday.”
With the win, Oxford’s reward is getting the opportunity to play for the 6A state championship against Oak Grove, a team head coach Chris Cutcliffe has a lot of respect for.
“Oak Grove is an outstanding, consistent 6A program,” Cutcliffe said. “We are honored to have the chance to compete against them. We are planning to keep our preparation as normal as possible this week.”
Led by dynamic quarterback Damon Stewart and running back Nick Millsap, the Warriors offense averages 177.7 rushing yards per game, according to MaxPreps.
Millsap and Stewart combined to run for 1,865 yards on the season.
Oak Grove also has a deadly passing attack, highlighted by three receivers with over 500 yards receiving each. Senior Tavion Smith, senior Brandon Hayes and junior Jordan Coleman all look to be a major problem for Oxford to defend come Friday.
The Warriors averaged 209.1 passing yards per game. Stewart threw for 36 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions on the season.
“Oxford has faced good quarterbacks the past month, but this quarterback, Stewart, has a group of receivers that Oxford hasn’t seen all year long,” Redding said. “They get open and they make catches in traffic. Oxford has a good secondary, but a size mismatch could be a big problem for Oxford in that area.”
For Oxford to win their first state championship in school history, they will also have to overcome the home field advantage Oak Grove is sure to possess in the championship game.
“Arguably the biggest challenge for Oxford is that they are playing a team that will be playing a state championship game in their home city of Hattiesburg,” Redding said. “Not to mention that most of them have cowbells while being very, very loud. This is a tough environment for Oxford to play in. Oxford will have their hands full.”
Kicker Jack Tannehill and the rest of the Charger team know how successful the defense has been thus far for the Chargers. So, expect to see a heavy dose of JJ Pegues and that lockdown defense for Oxford to take home their first state championship.
With a seasoned coach and players who have bought into the system, Oxford seems poised to bring home their first-ever football state championship trophy.
“His players have bought in,” Redding said. “This senior class is the first class that Cutcliffe has had the whole way through high school. His players just play hard and do their job. They’ve done that and it’s translated into the win column.”
“This game won’t only be won on the field on Friday, the team that wins will have worked harder from spring ball to now and I think that we have worked hard enough to do that,” Tannehill said.
The football team is heading to the state championship this afternoon. OHS administration is asking the public to “show their Charger pride” by lining Bramlett Ave. toward Sisk at 5:20 p.m to wish the team good luck. Posters and cheers are encouraged.