A frustrated Landon Graves just wanted the football in his hands early on in OCS’ 14-12 jamboree victory against Jena.
Disrupting a quarterback’s rhythm is one thing, but coming up with back-to-back empty possessions due to turnovers further aggravated OCS' returning starting quarterback. Once Graves had the ball firmly in his hands, he carved up Jena with a 7-for-8 day for 118 yards and two touchdown passes. He tossed touchdowns to Tate Hamby and Broc Hogan in the victory, further validating the strength of a receiving corps that has to replace Air Force signee Tristan Wiley.
“Everybody is saying Tristan is gone, but we’ve got some guys who have stepped up,” Graves said. “I’m looking forward to a really good year with them.”
OCS opened up the contest by piecing together one of the smoothest drives of the Bayou Jamb — featuring four straight completions from Graves — but right as running back Chad Strickland was about to cross the goal line, Jena forced a fumble and recovered.
The Eagles defense responded with a three-and-out but the turnover blues once again struck OCS. Hogan went to field a punt near the Jena 40-yard line and muffed it, giving the ball right back to the Giants with better field position.
“Turnovers, it doesn’t matter what level of football you play, it’s the name of the game,” OCS head coach Steven Fitzhugh said.
The Eagles forced a turnover of their own when OCS defenders ripped at the football, jarring it loose for Noah Lovelady to pounce on. The Eagles went right back to the passing game and Graves tossed a 60-yard touchdown to Tate Hamby (their fourth connection of the ballgame). The extra point that followed made it a 7-0 affair with four minutes remaining in the half.
“I thought Landon played extremely well,” Fitzhugh said. “Landon is throwing the ball extremely well, Chad (Strickland) ran the ball well and our offensive line opened ups some good holes. Eliminate the turnovers, and I feel like the offense had a good day. We got a lot of guys in and we’ll get to see them on film and see what they need to do.”
Jena built some momentum after the Eagles score with a long methodical drive, but a tackle for loss by Maddox King on a jet sweep forced a third-and-long from the Eagles’ 41-yard line. An incomplete that followed forced a fourth-and-long scenario that Jena completed to move the chains. Jena quarterback Zach Barker hooked up with Zykerrik Hunter for another first down that placed the Giants inside the red zone with 47 seconds remaining. Barker then put the ball right on the money to Demariyon Hammock for a 14-yard touchdown pass. The Eagles stopped the two-point conversion to maintain a 7-6 lead.
In the second half, OCS forced a turnover on downs after Jena churned out a six-minute drive. Strickland ripped off runs of 23 yards and 14 yards before Graves tossed an eight-yard touchdown pass to Hogan.
“We were trying to do some man-to-man stuff because we thought they were going to try and run some RPO, and we just weren’t ready for that man-to-man coverage,” Jena head coach Jay Roark said. “There were a couple of times we had a corner in a great position, and we just didn’t make the play on the ball. Lot of little things, but those things will kill you.”
Gavin Polk’s second extra point of the day gave the Eagles a 14-6 advantage, and those extra points would prove to be vital.
Jena had four minutes to drive from the 26-yard line, and that’s exactly what the Giants did. Facing a fourth-and-medium from the Eagles 29-yard line, Barker found Hunter on a 20-yard gain. The ball skipped through the hands of a diving Hamby and ended up in the paws of Hunter, who made an acrobatic grab.
“Tate said, ‘Man I was there,’ but I said, ‘Hey, he made the play,’” Fitzhugh said. “You want to play somebody that is great, and Jena made us better today.”
The drama intensified after Barker tossed a touchdown pass to Hammock with four seconds remaining in the jamboree. That brought the Giants within two points, but an underthrown ball on the two-point conversion sealed the victory for the Eagles.
OCS will open up at home in Week 1 against Arkansas’ Watson Chapel.