E.A. Sports Today

Overcoming adversity

Oxford rises above dreadful first half to win its 14th straight regular-season game and eighth in a row in region play

Oxford linebacker Prentice Fomby (10) wraps up a Cullman ballcarrier as the Yellow Jackets’ defense enjoyed another strong night disrupting an opponent’s offense. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — It’s a good thing Oxford coach Ryan Herring had his head shaved after last week’s win at Brewer because he probably would have pulled it all out in the crazy first half of the Yellow Jackets’ 38-14 win over Cullman Friday night at Lamar Field.

It was a very frustrating half for the Jackets and Herring, even though they led 21-7. They had two touchdowns, two interceptions and two long runs for first downs all called back, two penalties that gave Cullman two of its five first-half first downs and two dropped passes one of which turned into an interception that set up the Bearcats’ touchdown.

The penalty flags were killing the Jackets, but the good news was their offense cranked up two touchdowns and Jordan Swain picked off a pass and returned it 65 yards for another score.

“We had to fight through a tough game tonight,” Herring said. “Our defense kept us in it until the offense could get untracked. We had a lot of things not go our way, but our kids never quit fighting and got the job done.”

The Jackets (4-0, 2-0) took it 52 yards in 11 plays on their first drive and scored on a 10-yard run by Tyetus Smith-Lindsey to take a 7-0 lead. The Jackets would only have the ball 14 more plays in the first half after that due to the bizarre penalties and defense scoring.

Cullman (2-2, 1-1) tied the game briefly after an Abe Peoples pass was kicked up in the air by receiver Dave Russell and intercepted at the Oxford 46. Bearcats quarterback Fletcher Jennings found receiver Carson Freeman all alone in the end zone from 23 yards out on a third-and-1 for the score.

Swain’s interception in the second quarter put the Jackets up 14-7 and a last-minute drive of 65 yards in three plays, capped by a 2-yard Smith-Lindsey run, gave the Jackets a 21-7 halftime lead. Jackets quarterback Trey Higgins’ 62-yard pass to Brody Syer was the big play in the drive. Syer had a 51-yard interception for a touchdown wiped off the board in the first half.

“I was sitting on the play as we worked on that in practice,” Syer said. “It was disappointing that a penalty so far away from the play called it back.

“I was told I might get a chance to catch a pass on offense this week and I told Trey to get it to me if I am open and he did.”

“Syer was great on both sides of the ball tonight, just unbelievable ” Herring said.

The tough luck for the Jackets continued in the second half as another penalty wiped out a big gain on their first possession. On their second possession Peoples fumbled at the 1 and Cullman scored on the very next play to chop the lead to three points.

Richard Cantrell came into the game for Oxford in the third quarter, like he always does, and sparked the Jackets’ offense with a huge 38-yard run that set up a 20-yard field goal by Zane Barbao. Cantrell picked up 53 yards on six rushes.

“That was a big run and a big field goal for us,” Herring said. “It made it a two-score game and you could feel that it gave us some breathing room again.”

Smith-Lindsey started the fourth quarter with a 96 yard-run down the Cullman sideline to take the life out of the Bearcats and push the lead to 17 points.

”The line blocked well up front and gave me a hole to get through,” Smith-Lindsey said. “I had to make a couple of cutbacks and then had to run as hard as I could. I owe all my success to our line; they did a great job of blocking. (Cullman) had some linebackers that could really hit. It was tough out there.”

Smith-Lindsey ended up with 181 yards on 22 carries. He now has nine touchdowns and 547 yards rushing in four games.

Freshman quarterback Higgins gave Oxford a 38-14 lead when he threw a perfect strike to Russell Davis. Higgins was 3-for-4 for 98 yards passing in the game.

“You don’t know hard it is for a freshman to play like that against a good 6A team,” Herring said. “I was proud of him as he did a great job out there.”

Another Jackets drive sparked by the hard running of fullback Gabriel Webb’s 81 yards rushing ended the game at the Bearcat 5.

The Oxford defense, led by linebackers Prentice Fomby and Kendall McCallum, held the Bearcats to just 97 yards of offense on 47 plays. The Jackets have only allowed 402 total yards of offense all year and are only allowing 2.2 yards per play.

“We just try to make plays,” said Fomby.”This defense is fun to play on. McCallum is my brother. We are all brothers.”

Added McCallum, “We just all do our jobs. We try to be in the right place at the right time doing our job.”

Richard Cantrell (9) usually enters the game in the third quarter and gives the Oxford offense an instant boost. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

[table id=61 /]

Cullman 7 0 7 0 — 14
Oxford 7 14 3 14 — 38

O – Tyetus Smith-Lindsey 10 run (Zane Barbao kick) 5:15 1Q
C – Carson Freeman 23 pass from Fletcher Jennings (Miguel Robles kick) 0:44 1Q
O – Jordan Swain 65 interception return (Zane Barbao kick) 7:30 2Q
O – Tyetus Smith-Lindsey 2 run (Zane Barbao kick) 1:12 2Q
C – Ezra Burks 1 run (Miguel Robles kick) 6:54 3Q
O – Zane Barbao 20 FG 2:55 3Q
O – Tyetus Smith-Lindsey 96 run (Zane Barbao kick) 11:44 4Q
O – Dave Russell 34 pass from Trey Higgins (Zane Barbao kick) 10:05 4Q

Tyetus Smith-Lindsey rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns Friday night. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

To see more B.J. Franklin photos from the game, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

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