They were bigger, they were meaner.
That’s the way New Hope High School defensive end Payton Lane described the Oxford High offensive line when scouting the Chargers throughout the week.
For a half Friday night, looks were deceiving from an Oxford team that entered the game having scored more than 30 points in every game.
The Trojans defense pitched a shutout, dialed up effective blitzes, and intercepted quarterback Jack Abraham on the first series.
New Hope first-year head coach Shawn Gregory couldn’t ask for anything more against an undefeated team and a favorite to win Class 5A’s North bracket.
But poor ball security and special teams and lingering offensive issues turned a Herculean defensive effort into a 39-14 loss.
“We knew they had a young quarterback (Abraham),” Gregory said. “In the spread, the QB is the engine. He has to hit his spots. We wanted to make sure he threw with his feet moving. We did a good job of that. Our defense came ready to play.”
The New Hope defense was put in tough spots, forced to defend more than four possessions that began in its half. The Trojans (3-5, 1-3 Class 5A, Region 1) intercepted two passes and held Abraham to 138 yards on 13 of 28 completions.
“We had guys flying to the ball, and we were right there with them throughout the game,” said Lane, who had three quarterback pressures. “But as the bad stuff continued to pile up and we lost momentum, we all let up at different times. It’s just tough.”
New Hope trailed 16-0 at halftime after giving up a 57-yard punt return after a shanked punt, a safety and a touchdown off a short field following a muffed punt.
But New Hope looked to have shaken the jitters at the beginning of the second half.
Davis started 3-for-3 for 33 yards, and a 22-yard pass to Jason Dickerson pulled the Trojans to 16-6. The play came on third down and was highlighted by Dickerson’s one-handed snag. For the first time in the game, the Trojans’ offense rewarded their defense’s stellar play after senior Shontae Miller picked off Oxford quarterback Jack Abraham on the opening drive of the second half.
“That play was huge for us,” Gregory said.
The Chargers, despite showing signs of vulnerability on offense, shook off the dropped passes and holding penalties that stalled drives in the first half. Led by defensive end and Mississippi State University commit Darius Liggins, who had a sack and three tackles for a loss, the Chargers’ first unit surrendered just six points. New Hope’s second wave found the scoreboard late in the game when Brenton Spann scored on a 76-yard run.
The Chargers (8-0, 5-0) intercepted quarterback Brady Davis in the second half and quashed what little momentum he helped generate to start the third quarter. Davis missed his next six passes after the Trojans’ scoring drive.
“We got good pressure,” Oxford coach Johnny Hill said, “but we did it by shutting down the run. We knew we could stop it with five.”
Oxford’s offense finally got on track, pushing the game to 29-6 after a 9-yard scoring pass from Abraham to KT McCollin and a 4-yard scoring run by Jarius Barnes on back-to-back drives.
Oxford iced it on the next drive through Liggins sacked Davis for a 17-yard loss and had a tackle for loss before Mike McGhee’s interception.