There’s a first time for everything.
I’ve never actually seen a coach physically vomit on the field after a game. On Nov. 16, 2018, I thought we were seconds away from breaking new ground.
“You just want to throw up,” said OCS head coach Steven Fitzhugh, trying to grasp what just transpired.
The stories that lead up to that 22-21 improbable Southern Lab playoff victory at Ouachita Christian School are almost as interesting as the finish itself. Almost.
You see, Southern Lab was a No. 1 seed with future LSU stars. The Kittens had two of the top 15 recruits in the state (LSU’s Tyrion Davis-Price and Kardell Thomas). But Fitzhugh didn’t see star ratings. He saw work ethic, and more importantly, he saw an opening. Heading into that matchup, Fitzhugh called his shot.
“We traded film (Friday night), and I was watching them on the bus,” Fitzhugh said leading up to the matchup. “They’re a team that has several D1 commits and LSU commits, but you know what? They had that kind of all-star team in 2014, as well. I told our team last night we’re going to beat these guys because we’re going to out-hustle, out-hit and out-discipline them. That’s what we did in 2014.”
Some saw this as Fitzhugh taking a shot at Southern Lab, and many didn’t like it. In fact, Louisiana Sportsline’s message boards lit up with people bashing both Fitzhugh and the author of the article (this guy). So it made for an interesting week to say the least. But an hour before kickoff, I visited with Fitzhugh and his confidence was unshaken.
“I feel good about it,” he said.
I have to admit I had my doubts, especially after Southern Lab towered over OCS players during the coin toss. But once the game started, you started to see what Fitzhugh predicted. OCS was outhustling Southern Lab, as the Eagles dominated field position and won the turnover battle. The Eagles even committed fewer penalties (six compared to the Kitten’s 11), but OCS let far too many opportunities slip through its collective fingertips.
The Eagles were up 21-8 in the third quarter against the No. 1 seed. But OCS could not put the Kittens away. Southern Lab produced an 80-yard scoring drive at the start of the fourth quarter. One play on that scoring drive in particular stood out. You see, the field was so muddy that night that every time a player attempted to make a cut they slipped on the sloppy playing surface. So when Southern Lab faced a 4th-and-6 and handed the ball to Davis-Price on a dive play, I’m pretty sure my jaw hit the floor. No cuts needed. Davis-Price, being the downhill runner he was, barreled over defenders and willed his way to gain a first down. He got the ball inside OCS’ 30 before Southern Lab scored two plays later.
But the game was still OCS’, even if the Eagles failed to cash in on Southern Lab’s mistakes. Two series could have dashed Southern Lab’s hopes. The first came after Will Fitzhugh intercepted Southern Lab in the third quarter.
The turnover marked back-to-back possessions the Kittens turned it over to the Eagles, and after OCS drove the football into Southern Lab’s red zone, the Eagles were unable to punch it in. Quarterback Turner Carr was intercepted by a Southern Lab defender in the end zone, which led to the 80-yard scoring drive.
No harm, no foul. The Eagles still had the lead, and had a chance to ice the game after Will Fitzhugh’s second interception in the game with less than two minutes to play. The Eagles drove into Kittens territory late in the fourth quarter and faced a fourth down. If the Eagles convert, the game is over. If OCS doesn’t, the Kittens get the ball with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
As fate would have it, the Eagles could not convert and Southern Lab had one last opportunity, trailing 21-16. With 12 seconds remaining, Southern Lab quarterback Trevon Myles threw up a prayer to Reginald Johnson, who high-pointed the ball and broke away from OCS defenders on the 55-yard score. The game-winning play provided Southern Lab with a 22-21 victory on a frigid Friday night.
“It’s unimaginable,” Fitzhugh said. “That’s about as heartbreaking as they come.”
Before OCS went on its championship run last season, I visited with Steven Fitzhugh before the season. He told me he thought about putting a picture of that play on a poster to motivate his club for the upcoming season. He just couldn’t do it, though. The sight of that play made him physically ill, and it’s still to this day, one of the hardest losses he’s ever taken in his career.
Coming up next week is a recent showdown that had a fourth quarter for the ages