E.A. Sports Today

Jackets win season opener

[corner-ad id=2]Oxford uses sharp short-passing game, stout defense to defeat Southside for 10th straight time, 24-9

Kenney Britt (10) keyed an Oxford defensive effort that kept Southside out of the end zone in the second half. On the cover, sophomore quarterback Brody Syer fires one of his two second-half touchdown passes. (Photos by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography).

Kenney Britt (10) keyed an Oxford defensive effort that kept Southside out of the end zone in the second half. On the cover, sophomore quarterback Brody Syer fires one of his two second-half touchdown passes. (Photos by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography).

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – Somewhere between Keaton Borrelli’s field goal at the end of the first half and Brody Syer’s first touchdown pass in the second, the Oxford Yellow Jackets found an identity coach Ryan Herring really liked.

Herring expressed a concern in the run-up to Thursday night’s season opener about where the Jackets would find some offense this season. The efficiency of the defense was a given, but with 10 new starters on offense it was uncertain where or how the production would come.

The Jackets turned to an effective quick game in the second half and the defense was more than adequate to make it stand in a 24-9 win over Southside at Lamar Field. It was Oxford’s 10th straight win over the Panthers and 13th straight in the regular season.

But this one seemed a little bigger because of the questions they had entering the season.

“We kind of started to show who we are and who we can become this year,” Herring said. “If we can all play together and we can become a team in every sense of the word we’ve got a chance to win games.

“We’re not overly talented. There’s not an SEC team looking at anybody we’ve got on this team who’s a senior … but we’ve got a lot of potential. I don’t know if there’s really a ceiling you can put on this team. That’s not so say I’m expecting us to go 15-0, but I’m expecting us to play hard and play as a team.”

Oxford’s young offense did have trouble early. The Jackets gained only 42 yards on 18 plays in the first half and didn’t get their first first down until right before Borrelli’s field goal. But sophomore quarterback Syer threw two touchdown passes in the second half and Junito Allen returned an interception for another score as the Jackets scored 21 unanswered points after falling behind 9-3.

Syer had a 55-yard touchdown pass to basketball standout Jacoby McClendon that put the Jackets ahead for good and a 23-yarder to Justin Smith after he escaped the back-side blitz.

“We didn’t know who was going to produce, where we were going to get yards,” Herring said. “When you’ve got guys 6-2, 6-3 who are your receivers you’re kind of hoping that’ll be your strong point, you’re hoping you’re going to produce out on the perimeter. But at the same time tonight (with) the conditions and them bringing six or seven guys we didn’t have time to throw so it was going to have to be quick game.

“We got what we had to get out of the offense to help get the win.”

Syer, a left-handed thrower, was 13 of 24 passing for 165 yards, the two touchdowns and an interception. He threw for 135 yards in the second half when the Jackets went more to the quick passing game, which was about all the Panthers were giving them.

McClendon, a junior who hadn’t played football since the ninth grade and was playing this year with the blessing of basketball coach Joel Van Meter, caught five passes for 76 yards.

“We started off running and saw it wasn’t doing too great so late in the second quarter coming into the second half coach (Michael) Darden told me we were going to start throwing screen passes and stuff like that,” Syer said. “The corners were deep so that’s all we could do, really, the short game.

“All we needed was some momentum and that’s all it takes for us; we get some momentum and we’re good. We don’t really have any star players. We have small people with a lot of heart; that’s all it takes. I think people saw what we really have tonight.”

That spark they sought came from Borrelli’s 40-yard field goal on the final play of the first half that got Oxford on the board.

The defense, meanwhile, held Southside to single-digit scoring for the ninth time in their last 10 meetings. The Jackets also had three takeaways in the fourth quarter. Kenney Britt had 12 tackles, Ronny Isaac had six and Connor Syer – Brody’s brother – had seven tackles and two fumble recoveries.

“We knew if we played the whole game we’d be all right,” Britt said. “(At halftime) we composed ourselves and didn’t let the emotion get the best of us. Our leaders stepped up and talked to the young guys, talked to the offense, and told them if y’all just produce we’ve got your back 100 percent of the way.”

Oxford receiver Jacoby McClendon leaves a Southside defender in the dust after one of his five catches Thursday night. One of his catches went 55 yards for a touchdown. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

Oxford receiver Jacoby McClendon leaves a Southside defender in the dust after one of his five catches Thursday night. One of his catches went 55 yards for a touchdown. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

Oxford 24, Southside 9

Southside 0 6 3 0 – 9
Oxford 0 3 7 14 – 24

S – Alaric Williams 5 run (kick failed), 3:45 2Q
O – Keaton Borrelli 40 FG, 0:00 2Q
S – Carter West 36 FG, 6:13 3Q
O – Jacoby McClendon 55 pass from Brody Syer (Borrelli kick), 5:02 3Q
O – Justin Smith 23 pass from Syer (Borrelli kick), 5:52 4Q
O – Junito Allen 37 interception return (Borrelli kick), 4:04 4Q

Category So Ox
First downs 14 5
Rushes-yds 46-187 11-25
C-A-I 2-5-1 13-24-1
Passing yds 20 165
Fumbles-lost 4-3 1-0
Punts-avg 1-37.0 5-35.4
Penalties-yds 10-70 8-50



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