Fresh off an explosive second half in a first-round victory over Spain Park, Oxford rolled to a 41-7 lead at halftime of its second-round game against Northridge on Friday. The Jackets won 55-19 and tied a milestone.
The victory puts Oxford (11-1) in the third round, matching the 1997 team for school’s deepest playoff run in 6A. The Yellow Jackets will play host to Mountain Brook in next week’s quarterfinals.
Mountain Brook (12-0) beat Huntsville 31-14 on Friday.
“It makes us proud,” fourth-year Oxford coach John Grass said. “This is a great school, and they deserve it. They love their football here, and I’m just proud of our kids.”
Oxford has won state championships in 1988, 1989 and 1993, but all came in Class 5A. The Yellow Jackets’ previous best 6A run came in 1997, when they beat Minor and J.O. Johnson and lost to eventual state champion Tuscaloosa County 24-20 in the quarterfinals.
The Yellow Jackets last moved up to 6A in 2006 and suffered first-round losses in 2006 (Vestavia Hills), 2008 (Bob Jones) and 2009 (Decatur).
The 2007 team finished the regular season undefeated but had to forfeit seven victories because of an ineligible player and missed the playoffs.
In 2010, Oxford got through the first round for the first time since 2004 with a victory at Decatur, but the Jackets lost to Gadsden City in the second round.
“It feels like we done broke a curse or something,” said senior running back/receiver Coty Spurling, who scored four touchdowns Friday. “We’re just trying to move on from there and trying to win a state championship.”
This year, Oxford opened with a 42-34 victory over Spain Park. This week’s game against Mountain Brook will make it three consecutive home playoff games.
“What I’m proud of is the kids, Coach Grass and the staff,” Principal Trey Holladay said. “We’ve been kind of working for this team for the last three years to make it here and just extremely excited for them.
“It brings a lot of pride to the school. Of course, with a storied football program like we have, it’s always good to get over that hump.”
Oxford’s playoff lot improved when Region 7 champion Clay-Chalkville had to forfeit nine victories because of an ineligible player and missed the playoffs. That made the Yellow Jackets region champions and allowed them to open against Region 6 four seed Spain Park instead of three seed Pelham.
Northridge (10-2) came into the playoffs minus running back Bo Scarbrough, who was lost for the season to a knee injury.
But Oxford has gone without highly recruited linebacker Kwon Alexander (knee) since midseason. The Jackets lost the next game, at Auburn, but have won seven in a row since.
“We had to adjust,” Grass said. “It was an adjustment playing without Kwon. I’d love to see this football team right now with him, but we’ve had people step up all over the field and make plays.”
Oxford’s defense held Northridge to 57 rushing yards and 282 total yards Friday. The Jackets had three sacks, and Josh Montgomery, Trae Elston and Monte Bass each had an interception.
Dominique Williams had one of the sacks and also blocked a punt to set up an Oxford touchdown.
Running back Racean Thomas, coming off of his 301-yard performance against Spain Park, rested much of the second half Friday. He had 48 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown and turned a Jackson Stephens screen pass into a 62-yard score.
Stephens finished 11-for-17 for 203 yards and three TD passes, two to Coty Spurling, and Spurling added two touchdown runs.
Oxford got off to a blazing start thanks to turnovers and special teams.
Montgomery’s interception and 71-yard return to the Northridge 8-yard line set up a Thomas touchdown run on the next play for a 7-0 lead at 9:50 of the first quarter.
Williams’ blocked punt spotted Oxford on the Northridge one, and Spurling’s touchdown run on the next play made it 14-0 at 8:04 of the first.
Spurling’s 26-yard touchdown run followed Elston’s interception and made it 21-0 with 23 seconds left in the first, and Thomas’ long catch and run on the Stephens screen made it 28-7 at 5:29 of the second.
Stephens’ touchdown passes of 1 and 14 yards to Spurling provided the 41-7 cushion at halftime. The 1-yarder followed Bass’ interception.
Oxford has outscored its playoff opponents 83-29 since trailing Spain Park 24-14 at halftime.
“This week, we said we were going to start the game just like we started the second half last week,” Spurling said. “It’s STP. That’s our motto, Sustain the Pace.”
Holladay is anxious to see how long the Jackets can sustain it.
“We’ve cleared that hurdle, and now we need to continue on,” he said. “We don’t want to lose focus on the big prize and just be satisfied with third round.
“The way coach talked this week, they had a real good week and real focused week, and I think they’ll continue to do that.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.