Tigers fall 31-14 to Oxford after halftime lead; three interceptions, penalties too much to overcome

Published 10:51 pm Friday, September 1, 2023

Oxford scored 21 unanswered points in the first five minutes of the third quarter to take the lead over South Panola, then tacked on another touchdown on a 57-yard interception return in the fourth quarter to post a 31-14 win in high school football action at Robert H. Dunlap Stadium in Batesville Friday night.

The Tigers led 14-3 at halftime, having scored touchdowns on their first drive and again with 4:25 left in the second quarter. The Chargers had managed just a field, a 27 yard kick, in the first half.

The difference, Tigers head football coach Brooks Oakley said, was a loss of focus coming out of the locker room and more mistakes than the team could overcome.

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“We just didn’t get it done,” Oakley said. “We talked about it at halftime, coming out offensively and setting the tone just like we did in the first half, unfortunately we didn’t.”

“We were undisciplined tonight with a lot of personal fouls and mistakes and I take full responsibility,” Oakley said. “We have to work on it.”

One bright note for the Tigers, however, was a tremendous turnout by fans. District Superintendent Del Phillips has pushed early this season to put fans back in the stands. The stadium, which holds roughly 5,400 on the home side, had less than 500 for some home games last year. This year, the district has elected to not stream the games live, but show replays on Sunday afternoons. That decision, and a promotion sponsored this week by Cube Ice provided for $3 tickets for the first 750 fans at the game. Those changes have accomplished the goal of filling the home stands, something Phillips said is critical to rebuilding a championship program.

Oxford head football coach Chris Cutliffe said the halftime adjustment for the Chargers was not a drastic change, but was what the players needed to pile up points in the third period.

“We try to prepare for moments like that in the off season so I don’t think there is any magic speech you can give to get people ready to come out and play the second half,” Cutcliffe said. “You have to fall back on your training and the habits you’ve formed hopefully in the last eight months.”

The team’s response to the poor first half, is a good sign for the remainder of the season, Cutcliffe said.

“Football is definitely a game of momentum so when you get an opportunity to seize momentum you have to take them and I think we have capitalized on that the last two weeks,” he said.

The Chargers struck early in the third quarter, forcing a punt from the Tigers deep in their own territory. Oxford scored on a five-play, 28 yard drive, capped by a 14-yard run by Terrell McGlown. 

After another South Panola punt, Oxford went 55 yards on seven plays in 1:57 with Mitchell Grandjean connecting with Levi Blount for a 37 yard touchdown.

The Chargers scored again in the third quarter, this time on pick-six interception for 37 yard touchdown by Ken Herron with 4:25 left in the third quarter. That TD, and the PAT, made the score 24-14.

The Tigers put together an impressive drive early in the fourth quarter, picking up three first downs before stalling and turning the ball over on downs. On their next possession the Tigers gave up another interception for a touchdown – again to Herron on a 57 yard return, icing the game for the visiting Chargers.

Offensively, the Chargers had 186 total yards on 44 plays. On the ground, Oxford rushed for 87 yards on 26 attempts, and picked up 99 yards through the air on 18 passes.

The Chargers were led on the ground by Mitchell Grandjean who rushed for 33 yards on 11 carries. He also completed 9-of-15 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.

Peter Grandjean connected on 2-of-3 passing attempts for nine yards. Receiving, the Chargers were led by Blount with four receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown. Dane Harmon had three catches for 13 yards.

South Panola ran 68 plays for 307 offensive yards. On the ground, the Tigers rushed 44 times for 209 yards, led by Anderus Flowers who picked up 67 yards on nine carries. MIchael Johnson had 14 carries for 62 yards. Marcus Christon rushed 11 times for 57 yards.

The Tigers’ senior running back Julius Pope was injured and did not play.

Through the air, the Tigers picked up 98 yards on 10-of-14 passing. Johnson was 9-for-23 with 94 yards, and three interceptions. Mykel Allen threw one pass, a four touchdown on the opening drive of the game.

Receiving, the Tigers were led by Christon with three catches for 53 yards, Cameren Griffin had two receptions for nine yards and a touchdown. 

On defense, Oxford was led by Kylan Mathis, Bryant Mix, and Collin Flanigan, each recording eight solo tackles. Herron’s two interceptions for touchdowns were the highlights for the defense.

For the Tigers, Antravlyun Clark had six tackles, followed by Allen and Terrel Henderson with five tackles each.

South Panola had the ball 32:56 and Oxford’s time of possession was 15:04.

The Tigers were penalized 14 times for 98 yards. The Chargers were flagged seven times for 46 yards.