The 6-foot-2 senior blocked a punt and came up with two big catches late in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead touchdown reception with 1:01 to play to help Oxford to a 34-24 win against Carrollton (Ga.), the Peach State’s Class AAA runners-up last year.
On the decisive touchdown, Williams came off the edge, stretched out to clip a punt deep in Trojan territory and then recovered it at the 1 with 3:54 to play to set up a Coty Spurling touchdown. He followed that by finding a crease in the Carrollton zone and taking what looked like a routine route for a score in the frantic finish.
“The play was for me to go in and sit down,” Williams said, describing his heroic catch. “If the linebacker bailed, I was supposed to sit down right there.
“If he stayed, I was supposed to get out. But I sat down right there, and Jackson saw me and nothing was stopping me from catching that ball.”
Williams and Yellow Jackets, ranked ninth in the Alabama Sports Writers Association preseaon poll, simply kept coming as they avenged last season’s 22-point road loss at the hands of the Trojans.
When they fell behind 14-7 on a dazzling 22-yard run before the half by Auburn commit Jonathan Johnson 3:11 before the half, they respond with a 12-play drive to open the third quarter which ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by Gary Mason to knot it at 14.
Then there were the game’s last 1:48 seconds.
As Carrollton scored to go ahead 24-21, Oxford struck again. The Yellow Jackets went 60 yards in just 34 seconds to dodge what appeared to be certain doom.
Trae Elston dipped and darted his way to a nice kickoff return to give the Yellow Jackets good field position at their own 40. That’s when Stephens and Jackson went to work.
Jackson rifled a pass to Williams over the middle just as Trojans’ safety Josh Barge was closing. Barge unloaded, delivering a blow so hard it knocked Williams’ helmet off.
“I wasn’t really worried about that hit,” Williams said. “As long as I caught that ball, I was OK.”
However, Williams, who finished with four catches for 65 yards, held on for the 16-yard reception and the first down. Oxford benefitted from a pass interference call on the next play. Following an incomplete pass, Stephens found Williams again over the middle for the score that gave them the lead for good at 28-24 with a little more than a minute to play.
Stephens completed 11 of 26 attempts for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He scored the Yellow Jackets’ first touchdown in the first quarter on fourth-and-goal from the 5.
The emergence of Williams, who seems to have finally found his niche at wideout this season alongside the highly touted Elston, gives Oxford two viable deep threats in the passing game. On a team with enough stars for a planetarium, it seems as if they might’ve found another one in Williams.
“He’s been through a lot,” Stephens said. “He’s went through a lot of positions. He used to be D-line. He was a linebacker for years, and now he’s at receiver. We had him at receiver a little bit last year, but now he’s learning how to run routes and learning what to do.”
Junior linebacker Damian Cosper padded the final when he picked off Carrollton quarterback Dallas Dickey and returned it for a score with 32 seconds to play.
Dickey threw for 79 yards and ran for 74. Johnson led the Trojans in rushing with 97 yards on 20 carries.
Oxford faces rival Gadsden City in its Region 7 opener next week. The Titans defeated the Yellow Jackets twice last season, including a 23-21 victory against them at home in the second round of the playoffs.
“Our schedule is set up. It’s tough,” Oxford coach John Grass said. “It’s murder’s row. There aren’t any gimmes on there. In our non-region weeks that we have left we’ve got Auburn and Phenix City, two top ten teams … We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.