Tested briefly in the fourth quarter, Ouachita Christian’s season mantra, “Finish Strong,” proved to be more than empty words Friday night.
Clinging to a 26-21 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles put Oak Grove away for a 40-21 victory.
It was a game OCS would likely have lost a year ago. Tormented by the memories of three heartbreaking losses in the waning moments, the Eagles bought into their new motto.
“A lot of times our theme is based on the hurts of the previous season,” OCS coach Steven Fitzhugh said. “We have been preaching to our kids to finish strong, all year. We have gone through seven games now, and have finished strong in just about every ballgame.”
Last year’s embarrassing 64-35 loss at Oak Grove was an exception to the rule. Even then, the Eagles were in the game at halftime.
“Oak Grove blew our doors off in the second half last year,” coach Fitzhugh said.
There would be no such collapse this time around.
Ron Craten’s two-yard run capped a 10-play, 64-yard drive to bring the Tigers within 26-21 with 10:42 to play.
OCS needed exactly one minute to reassume command of the game.
Covering an onside kick attempt, the Eagles started from the plus-49.
Freshman Landon Graves, who drew his first varsity start in place of the injured Hunter Herring, completed back-to-back passes to Tristan Wiley for gains of 29 and five yards. Will Fitzhugh then ran it in from 15 yards out to put the Eagles up 33-21 with 9:42 remaining.
Christopher Holyfield’s kickoff went for a touchback, forcing the Tigers to start from the 20, and John Thomas Dixon’s first down sack led to an empty possession.
Kaleb Proctor’s interception at the Oak Grove 45 gave the visitors a fleeting moment of hope, but Will Fitzhugh picked off a deep pass on the very next play at the OCS 8.
Five snaps later, Graves and Wiley teamed up for a game-clinching 81-yard touchdown pass with 2:58 on the clock.
Grant Mashaw’s sack and Will Fitzhugh’s second interception of the quarter punctuated the victory, which placed the Eagles (6-1, 4-0) squarely in the District 2-1A driver’s seat.
Mashaw (10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss) and Holyfield (7 tackles, 1 TFL) spearheaded a defense, which regrouped after allowing touchdowns on Oak Grove’s first two possessions.
“Oak Grove probably had 100 yards rushing in the first quarter. They chewed up six minutes on their first drive,” coach Fitzhugh said. “Coach (Randall) Bentley and coach (Cleo) Head kept making adjustments, and we held them to minus-10 (yards rushing) in the fourth quarter. Our defense played with emotion and got after it. I really felt like Oak Grove was tougher to defend this year than in previous years because of their ability to throw the ball.”
Will Fitzhugh left the game momentarily, only to return in a blaze of glory.
“Will tweaked his knee, and came out in the third quarter,” coach Fitzhugh said. “After he put a knee brace on, he had two interceptions and scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving). That was one of the gutsiest performances I’ve seen in a while.”
Both offenses found their rhythm early, trading scores on their first two possessions.
Oak Grove received the opening kickoff and started the game with a vintage Oak Grove drive. Otis Moore’s five-yard run sealed a 14-play, 78-yard march, which took 5:47 off the clock. James Clack tacked on the first of three PATs.
OCS covered 58 yards on a dozen plays on its initial possession.
Before throwing the first two touchdown passes of his varsity career, Graves scored his first offensive touchdown on an 11-yard pass from Eli Extine. Samuel Harrell’s extra point knotted the score at 7 late in the opening period.
Braden Sullivan’s 35-yard pass to Kelvin Holloway put the Tigers back in front early in the second quarter.
Will Fitzhugh’s 79-yard kickoff return to the 7 set up his own one-yard touchdown run. Oak Grove blocked the extra point to maintain a 14-13 lead with 9:47 left in the half.
There was no further scoring until OCS moved 60 yards on 10 plays upon receiving the second half kickoff. Dillon Dougan’s one-yard run gave the Eagles their first lead, 19-14.
“Dillon Dougan had a big touchdown run in the third quarter,” coach Fitzhugh said. “He saw a crease, and hit it.”
Oak Grove’s offense was back on the field for only two plays. On what was arguably the key play of the game, Aidan Ham dislodged the ball on a running play, and pounced on the fumble at the Tigers’ 36.
Moments later, Graves’ 28-yard TD aerial to Will Fitzhugh increased the margin to 26-14 with 3:18 to play in the third quarter.
Notes: OCS is closing in on its first district championship since 2016. … The Eagles ended a two-game losing streak against Oak Grove, which holds a 20-10 lead in the all-time series. Friday night’s win marked only the fourth time for the Eagles to defeat the Tigers out of 15 meetings in Lamkin. … Coach Steven Fitzhugh collected his 198th career coaching victory, all at OCS. … Herring and Will Fitzhugh will be withheld from Friday night’s homecoming encounter with Tensas. Both are slated to return for the final regular season home game against St. Frederick on Thursday, Oct. 31.
By the Numbers
OG ……………………………. OCS
15 ……… First downs ……… 18
39-175 … Rushes-yards …… 27-54
68 ……… Yards passing …… 284
9-4-2 ….. Passes (A-C-I) …… 26-17-1
4-36 …… Punts-avg. ……….. 1-46
2-1 …….. Fumbles-lost …….. 1-0
11-90 …. Penalties-yards …… 5-45
Oak Grove .. 7 7.. 0. 7—21
OCS ………. 7 6 13 14—40
OG—Otis Moore 5-run (James Clack kick), 6:13
OC—Landon Graves 15-pass from Eli Extine (Samuel Harrell kick), 1:34
OG—Kelvin Holloway 35-pass from Braden Sullivan (Clack kick), 11:24
OC—Will Fitzhugh 1-run (kick blocked), 9:47
OC—Dillon Dougan 1-run (pass failed), 6:17
OC—Fitzhugh 28-pass from Graves (Harrell kick), 3:18
OG—Ron Craten 2-run (Clack kick), 10:42
OC—Fitzhugh 15-run (Harrell kick), 9:42
OC—Tristan Wiley 81-pass from Graves (Harrell kick), 2:58
RUSHING—Oak Grove: Craten 12-81-1, Moore 16-74-1. Ouachita Christian: Fitzhugh 12-27-2.
PASSING (A-C-I-Yds-TD)—Oak Grove: Sullivan 9-4-2-68-1. Ouachita Christian: Graves 23-16-1-273-2, Extine 2-1-0-11-1.
RECEIVING—Oak Grove: Holloway 2-48-1, Reid Milligan 1-18. Ouachita Christian: Wiley 6-164-1, Extine 4-46, Fitzhugh 3-39-1, Dougan 2-17, Graves 1-11-1.