The matchup Ouachita Christian fans have been waiting for has arrived.
Ouachita Christian and Calvary Baptist will meet up again in the postseason after last year’s 62-41 state title game that broke numerous state championship records.
Things might look a little bit different this time, or at least that's what OCS is hoping. The Eagles’ defense has given up a total of 40 points in the last eight weeks, so you can understand why defensive standouts like linebacker Noah Lovelady are foaming at the mouth to see quarterback Landry Lyddy and Calvary Baptist again.
“We were a little embarrassed,” Lovelady said. “We came into that game thinking we were the big dogs, and they just took it to us. We’re taking it personal this year. We’re ready.”
Lovelady led the Eagles with eight tackles in a 42-0 victory against Ascension Catholic Friday night.
Lyddy, a Louisiana Tech commit, finished the regular season with a state-leading 3,244 yards and 44 touchdowns. He threw for 464 yards against the Eagles en route to that state championship victory one year ago.
And as impressive as that feat was, on the opposite side in the losing effort, OCS wide receiver Tristan Wiley broke a Division IV/Class 1A state title game record with 13 receptions for 218 yards and two touchdown catches. Think the Air Force commit hasn’t thought about Calvary Baptist a time or two after that loss?
“I’ve been thinking about three teams all season: Oak Grove, Calvary Baptist and Southern Lab,” Wiley said. “We checked one off and now we get to check another one off. We wanted Calvary since last year, so we’ve been waiting all year for this.”
The Cavaliers defeated Sacred Heart, 63-7, while the Eagles pummeled the Bulldogs, 42-0, in quarterfinal contests Friday night to set up this can't miss semifinal clash.
OCS head coach Steven Fitzhugh had many sleepless nights thinking about the yards and points his defense gave up toward the end of the 2020 season. What he’s seen from this heavy pursuit unit in 2021 is night and day from what he saw a year ago.
“We’re excited about (the game),” Fitzhugh said. “It was great to play a passing team like we saw tonight because we know what Calvary is going to try to do. We remember the 450-plus yards of passing against us last year. We’re ready for that challenge that they’re going to bring. Tonight was a good warm-up for that because this team throws the ball every play. Our defense is playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
All remaining doubt vanquished when Tristan Wiley fielded a punt around the Ascension Catholic 40-yard line. With OCS leading 7-0 toward the end of the quarter, Wiley got his hands on the football and slipped through several would-be tacklers before turning on the jets and sprinting into the end zone for the 40-yard touchdown return. That would become a familiar visual on the night, by the way.
Wiley’s 65-yard punt return at the start of the fourth quarter made for an unusual sight at Steven Fitzhugh Field.
“I’m willing to say I don’t know anybody who has scored two punt returns in a game,” Fitzhugh said. “That’s pretty unique. I don’t remember seeing that, especially against a quality team like that.”
On a night where OCS’ defense held Ascension Catholic to just 135 yards of offense, a 14-0 OCS lead felt insurmountable.
Don’t get it twisted. Ascension Catholic would threaten. After Graves and Wiley couldn't quite hook up on a wide-open post pattern in the end zone on third down late in the second quarter, Graves fourth down pass attempt fell incomplete as the Eagles turn it over on downs at the AC25. That’s when quarterback Bryce Leonard went to work. He had six straight completions to get the ball inside the red zone then had a nice scramble on third down to pick up another crucial first down. But OCS’ defense made the plays when it mattered. Lovelady, Ryder Bentley and James David Miller made consecutive tackles before the Eagles forced an incompletion on fourth-and-goal to take over and protect a 14-0 lead at halftime.
Bentley registered two sacks, while Miller accounted for seven tackles.
“I thought our defense hustled like crazy,” Fitzhugh said. “They were able to get some screens, but we put some pressure on them. This was the best passing team we had faced this year. Bryce Leonard is a great quarterback and his brother and several other receivers made plays. But I was just proud of our effort.”
Casey Cobb was once again a maniac on both sides of the ball. When he wasn’t moving his defender off the ball on offense, Cobb showcased his athleticism as a defensive lineman as he tracked down ball carriers from behind. He led the team with three tackles for loss and also made a key block that sprung Wiley on one of his punt return scores.
“His motor runs,” Fitzhugh said. “He just makes plays all over the field.”
The Eagles had a statement drive to start the second half. Helped by a 45-yard run by Chad Strickland, the Eagles marched right down the field on three plays to go up by three scores. Where Graves and Wiley failed to connect on the post pattern earlier, the OCS dynamic duo synced up this time on a post pattern for a 26-yard score.
Graves scored his third touchdown of the night with his legs on the ensuing possession, as he found the end zone on a 14-yard run. Graves completed eight-of-12 passes for 141 yards and a score while also rushing for 57 yards and two scores on 10 carries.
A Ben Devall sack four plays later kept it all Eagles, as OCS would go on to out-gain Ascension Catholic by 251 yards on the night.
Strickland found the end zone on a 39-yard scamper, where he kept his feet moving and maintained his balance on the sideline to put the Eagles up, 35-0.
And Wiley’s 65-yard punt return made it a 42-0 ballgame in the fourth.
OCS' offense had some rocky moments early. A Strickland fumble in Bulldog territory gave Ascension Catholic an opportunity early on, but the defense forced its second consecutive three-and-out after Wiley snuffed out a wide receiver screen on third down. Strickland, by the way, rebounded from that fumble with 146 rushing yards and a score on 18 carries.
Back-to-back negative plays on offense from the Eagles set up a third-and-12 from the Eagles 44-yard line. Graves then stepped back and hit Wiley for a 26-yard gain to swing the pendulum in favor of the Eagles. Graves picked up where he left off from last week with an option keeper that kept the chains moving before powering his way in for a short score.
Graves improved to 14-0 as the OCS starting quarterback.