E.A. Sports Today

Battle-tested Jackets ready for playoffs

Oxford opens post-season play a long way from home

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – The Oxford Yellow Jackets are about to embark on one of the longest trips in the first-round of the high school football playoffs, but the way they’ve negotiated the long road of the regular season has them ready for the challenge.

Coach Ryan Herring’s team travels some 200 miles Friday to play Dothan in the opening round of the Class 6A South playoffs. For the Yellow Jackets, it’s just adds to the adventure.

“We play a really tough schedule to prepare us for the playoffs and we are looking forward to them,” Herring said.

The Yellow Jackets (5-5) have played nine teams that have been ranked in their respective top 10s at some point in the regular season. That gauntlet includes region champions Gadsden City, Southside and Opelika. They also played the No. 2 scoring defense in the state in Class 7A, Vestavia Hills.

They beat Southside (in the season opener) and Vestavia Hills, and led 7A Gadsden City going into the fourth quarter.

The Jackets have gotten better as the season has moved on. In their first year without Roc Thomas, they struggled early to find a replacement in the backfield. All-state receiver Tre Gamble was being double-and triple-teamed at the beginning of the season and the Jackets struggled at times as the running game was not there to move the football.

After five games, Herring moved Gamble to tailback and the offense has flourished with the exception of the rain-marred season finale against Decatur.

“When Gamble is in the backfield, they cannot double and triple team him and we can get the ball in our best offensive players hand much more,” Herring said.

Gamble leads the Yellow Jacket offense with 1,116 yards rushing, 671 yards receiving and 25 touchdowns. He has 900 yards rushing in the last four games. Quarterback Ty Webber, meanwhile, has moved from a passing quarterback to a running quarterback and rushed for more than 80 yards in the mud last week.

All indications are for a close game at Rip Hewes Stadium between two very similar football teams and schools.

Oxford is the 43rd-largest school in the state, gaining 175 students over the last six years. othan is 44th, losing 200 students over the last six years.

Both have storied traditions, 5-5 records this season, a running back that gets most of the carries and shown flashes of brilliance at times. Both are scoring around 25 points a game are giving up 24 points a game.

Oxford’s opponents have a combined record of 63-36, while Dothan’s are 49-50. The Tigers beat two of the top three teams in their Region while losing to the fifth- and sixth-place teams.

They counter Gamble with tailback Isiah Long, who has rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns. Long has nine touchdown runs of more than 50 yards on the season. Oxford’s defense has played well this season, but has been hurt by two to three explosive plays this season. It will be imperative to keep Long from breaking loose on big plays.

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