His team may not have scored in the first quarter, but there was still plenty of football to play.
Whatever the 10th-ranked Yellow Jackets didn’t do in the first, they made up for in the second, erupting for 27 points before halftime en route to a 40-24 victory over unranked and previously undefeated Austin.
“In this region, you’ve got to play every Friday night; there are no gimmes in the league,” the Oxford coach said. “We knew it was a dangerous game. We drove the ball — two of the first three times we had it, we turned it over — but then we made things happen.”
The big second quarter helped the Yellow Jackets (3-1, 2-1) to a 34-3 lead in the third quarter, and they needed all of it because the Bears (3-1, 2-1) — bidding for their first 4-0 start since 1993 — scored 21 straight points in the second half to cut the margin to 34-24 with 5:20 to play.
Everyone in the stadium and undoubtedly college recruiters from Tuscaloosa to Tucson held their collective breath with 7:55 left in the game when the Yellow Jackets’ outstanding senior linebacker Kwon Alexander crumpled to the turf clutching his right knee.
After being attended to by medical personnel on the field, Alexander got to his feet and ran to the sideline under his own power, but he didn’t return. He was one of the last players in the postgame receiving line, partaking in the ritual with an ice bag on his right knee and dragging a set of crutches from his arm.
Grass wasn’t immediately certain of the injury and said more would be known today.
“I just need to get off it right now,” Alexander said. “I played it wrong. I’m good. I’ll be ready for next week.”
Alexander expressed that same optimism to the crowd before disappearing into the team room.
“That’s just Kwon,” sophomore running back Racean Thomas said. “He won’t accept injury.”
The Jackets built their big lead off big plays and turnovers.
Thomas opened the scoring on a 22-yard run set up by a Trae Elston interception after Austin burned the Jackets on a fake punt. Elston scored on a 64-yard pass from Jackson Stephens and before the half ended Thomas raced 82 yards for a touchdown and Monte Bass returned an interception 60 yards for another score.
Thomas’ third touchdown of the night, a 3-yard run with 9:04 left in the third quarter, pushed the lead to 34-3.
“The second quarter was real big,” said Thomas, who finished with 182 yards rushing on 15 carries. “It was just nice to come out there and execute like we did. Everybody played their part. Even the defense, they got on the board for us. It was good on both sides of the ball.”
The Bears cut into the lead on touchdown runs of 3 and 30 yards by Seth Lynch on either side of Tyler Constantine’s 15-yard fumble return for a score.
Oxford shut down the Bears misdirection all night. The Jackets held Austin to 41 yards rushing in the first half and continually stopped their quick out passes to Malique Elliott and Joshua Walker. The Bears completed 20 of 29 passes, but for only 128 yards.
“We played well up front, I think,” Grass said.
The Oxford coach returned his offensive starters to the game after Austin pulled within 10 and the Jackets wrapped the scoring on a 12-yard run by Elston with 4:10 to play. Elston produced 138 yards of offense on 10 touches.
“No matter what the lead is, you still have to go hard,” Thomas said.
Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.