E.A. Sports Today

Jackets open up

Fort Payne dares No. 2 Oxford to throw the ball and the Jackets oblige in the second half and pull away

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

FORT PAYNE – It was a war won in the trenches Friday night as second-ranked Oxford won its 18th straight regular season game, 17-7 over Fort Payne.

It wasn’t easy as the Yellow Jackets (8-0, 5-0) had to overcome a Wildcats team (4-3, 2-2) that just stacked the box and dared the Jackets to throw the ball.

“We had to do something,” Oxford coach Ryan Herring said.

So in the second half the Jackets opened things up with option plays, quick pitches and a solid passing game.

Freshman Trey Higgins, making his second straight varsity start at quarterback, completed 13 of 18 passes in the game for 119 yards. He also ran seven yards for a touchdown. Tyetus Smith-Lindsey led the ground game with 160 yards on 24 carries.

”They were stacking the line against us and we were not prepared for that,” Herring said. “I was proud of the effort, as we found a way to win. We want to finish strong and we are going to start on that tomorrow.”

The Jackets got on the board on their second drive of the game when Zane Barbao drilled a 22-yard field goal from the left hash to cap a 10-play, 65-yard drive. The drive featured a bizarre punt by Caden Higgins that went between a kneeling officials’ arms and touched a Wildcat allowing Junito Allen to recover it at the Fort Payne 35 and keep the drive alive.

The Jackets had an earlier drive stopped on an interception off of a tipped pass at their own 25 and that was it in the first half as it turned into a mighty defensive struggle. Fort Payne’s all-world punter and field goal kicker Evan McPherson kept the Jackets pinned deep with three long punts.

Fort Payne only had one first down in the first half, but it helped set up a 42-yard field goal attempt by McPherson. But Tacorrie Russell blocked the kick and the Jackets held off the only scoring threat.

“That was a huge, huge play for us,” said Herring, ”Our guys did a good job of getting back there on the play.”

Oxford took control early in the third quarter with a beautiful 89-yard drive on 11 plays that was capped by Higgins’ 7-yard run. The drive chewed up seven minutes on the third quarter clock and gave the Jackets a 10-0 lead.

A defensive holding penalty gave the Wildcats a 35-yard gain early in the fourth quarter and they took advantage of it. Matthew Shaddix made a leaping catch in the end zone on a 27-yard Jay Tyler pass to chop the Jackets’ lead to 10-7.

Oxford roared back and covered 80 yards in eight plays. Smith-Lindsey had a 47-yard run to spark the drive and then got the touchdown on a 4-yard run to put the game away. Jordan Swain picked off a Tyler pass a few moments later and returned it for a touchdown with 1:54 left, but the play was called back on a penalty.

“I saw the receiver coming on a corner route and I followed him,” Swain said. “Then I saw the ball and just went up and got it and started running.”

The Yellow Jackets are in need of a week off, but there’s no rest in sight. They play archrival Pell City at Lamar Field next week in search of another region title.

“A lot of credit needs to go to Fort Payne,” Herring said. “They were well-prepared and gave us a good test on the road. We are a banged up football team and needed to be off this week, but we got Pell City and that will be a battle.”

[table id=76 /]

Oxford 3 0 7 7 — 17
Fort Payne 0 0 0 7 — 7

O – Zane Barbao 22 FG, 0:45 1Q
O – Trey Higgins 7 run (Zane Barbao kick), 3:57 3Q
FP – Matthew Shaddix 27 pass from Jay Tyler (Evan McPherson kick), 7:06 4Q
O – Tyetus Smith-Lindsey 4 run (Zane Barbao kick), 2:49 4Q

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