Oxford pulled out a couple more big plays than did Southside on Thursday.
Competing as a Class 6A football team for the first time since the 1991 season, the Panthers came up short by a score of 42-21 at Barney Hood Stadium.
The visiting Yellow Jackets, who remained in 6A following last year’s re-classification, enjoyed a 21-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Trailing 35-14 at the halfway mark of the third period, however, Southside used an electrifying 75-yard touchdown run by Aleric Williams to keep within striking distance.
Williams, who hadn’t played since Week 9 of last season, finished with 102 yards on 13 carries.
But an ill-timed turnover ultimately dashed the Panthers’ hopes of a comeback.
The Panther defense forced a three-and-out on the next Oxford possession, giving the hosts the ball at their own 20-yard line with three minutes left in the third quarter.
With Williams and Holt Keeling taking direct snaps from center and pounding the Jacket defense with off-tackle runs, Southside eventually arrived at the Oxford 36.
That was a far as the Panthers got, as on the next play Schylar Johnson pounced on a fumble at the Yellow Jacket 40.
A 15-yard pass from William Webber to Jacob Cook and a 20-yard run by Dylan Sipplin helped move the ball to the Panther 13, where Thomas Rudolph took it into the end zone with 7:46 remaining in the game.
The subsequent Southside series yielded six yards and ended on a failed fourth down conversion attempt at the Panther 31. By the time Southside got the ball back, less than two minutes remained on the game clock.
“I wasn’t conditioning or anything, but when the defense is out on the field for the whole game, it’s starts to wear on you a little, and we’re a team that can’t give up big plays,” said SHS head coach Ron Daugherty.
In addition, the Panthers were without the services of senior lineman Tyler Carr and junior linebacker/fullback Hunter Armstrong, who were out sick.
“Those were big losses for us,” said Daugherty. “It’s killing those kids, but we’ve got to get them healthy. We also had a few others who were banged and bruised up and weren’t able to play too much. But I felt that we had just as good a chance as any other time to come in and win this game.
“We just had a few things that didn’t go our way and had a few mistakes that we normally don’t have. We usually don’t put the ball on the ground and we usually don’t miss some of the blocks that we missed tonight. Oxford’s a really good team and they work to take what you give them.”
Southside’s initial four possessions totaled 28 yards while ending in three punts and a lost fumble.
“I thought the biggest factor early was that our offense couldn’t get our defense off the field,” said Daugherty. “We’re normally going to drive the ball and eat up some clock, and our first four or five series didn’t amount to much.”
But the Panther defense forced a punt and recovered a fumble on the visitors’ first two series, allowing the hosts to come out of the first quarter at 0-0.
The above scoreless tie lasted just 15 seconds, however, as Webber’s 1-yard touchdown run and the first of Keaton Borrelli’s six extra points made it 7-0 at 11:45.
Southside was forced to punt on the next series, and it took the Yellow Jackets one play to find the end zone when Webber and Cook hooked up on a 36-yard touchdown at 9:02.
But the Panthers responded on the next play from scrimmage. Quarterback Greyson Daugherty tossed a screen pass to Tristian Shaw, who found Holt Keeling open at midfield. Keeling outraced the Oxford secondary down the right sideline for the score, and Kristian Wilmore’s PAT drew the hosts within 14-7 with 8:43 left before halftime.
The Jackets extended their advantage with the help of a 32-yard pass play from Webber to Cook.
That completion set up Oxford at the SHS 11, where Sipplin’s touchdown run pushed the lead to 21-7 ay 6:31.
A 44-yard run by Keeling late in the first half led to Williams’ 1-yard touchdown run with 1:44 remaining, but the visitors answered three plays later on Webber’s 47-yard touchdown pass with just under a minute left.
Keeling ended up with 75 rushing yards on 12 attempts
The Yellow Jackets padded their lead to 35-14 on the first possession of the second half, a nine-play, 60-yard series capped off by Rudolph’s 1-yard touchdown run at 6:47 of the third.
Southside responded with Williams’ long scoring run, but could not find the end zone thereafter.
“We had a lot of young kids grow up tonight,” said Daugherty. “We moved a couple of kids to a position that they’d never played at before tonight, and they stepped up.”
For Oxford, Webber completed 14-of-20 passes for 281 yards, while Cook caught eight passes for 218 yards.
“We’ve got a huge rivalry game here on Thursday (against Hokes Bluff),” said Daugherty. “It’s my alma mater and I played for Coach Rob. They’re going to be very well-coached and ready to battle. Then we step into another 6A game at Chelsea, who probably is more athletic than Oxford.”