And thanks to it, Oxford’s football team will be going to the AHSAA Class 6A semifinals.
The senior quarterback’s fourth-and-12, 53-yard touchdown pass forced overtime, where the Yellow Jackets scored the 35-28 upset over Mountain Brook in the quarterfinals.
“I felt like we had the game won from the get-go,” Stephens said. “We didn’t care that we got down 14-7. This team’s built on character and how we go about our business.”
With the win, Oxford (12-1) advances to face second-ranked Hoover (12-1), coached by former Oxford coach Josh Niblett; the winner advances to the Class 6A state title game.
There were times Friday night, however, where that matchup looked unlikely.
It appeared as if Oxford was headed for a seventh straight unsuccessful series late in the fourth quarter after three plays which yielded minus-2 yards to start what wound up being the game-tying drive in regulation.
Out of necessity, the Yellow Jackets chose to go for it on fourth down and a terribly busted play turned into the timeliest of blessings.
“It wasn’t open,” Stephens said, recounting what he saw as he dropped back to pass. “They had three safeties back there. They had everything covered. There was nothing open. So, I rolled out. I just happened to look downfield, across the field and there he was.
“I didn’t really see him that great. I just chunked it as far as I could. (Spurling) came out of nowhere and seen that and I was just like ‘un-believable’.”
Trae Elston scored Oxford’s touchdowns in each of the first two overtimes. First, he scored on a 10-yard reception where he beat a Spartans corner to the end zone on a slant route. Then, he muscled the ball away from a defender who was flagged for pass interference on a 9-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 28.
“I feel like anybody in the state of Alabama who tries to guard me (1-on-1) I’m going to beat him,” he said.
Mark Rector accounted for Mountain Brook’s overtime scores on a 10-yard touchdown catch and 2-yard run.
Oxford got the ball first in the second overtime and handed it off to Spurling on the first three plays to reach the Mountain Brook 1-yard line. Oxford coach John Grass contemplated kicking a field goal but decided to go for it, knowing a fourth overtime could be the only worst outcome if they scored and the Spartans matched it.
Coming out of a timeout, Stephens handed the ball off to Spurling who lowered his head and plowed his way to a 1-yard touchdown run — the game winner.
‘They call me ‘Chief’,” Spurling said. “I’m a leader of the team. He gave me the ball I knew I had to do it for them, not for myself but for them too. I guess the Lord put it through His mind to give me the ball too. It was just a blessing to get that touchdown right there.”
Stephens completed 12 of 25 passing attempts for 200 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Spurling carried the ball 13 times for 45 yards and a score and caught two passes for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Elston added four receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns as well as an interception on defense. Racean Thomas had 14 carries for 76 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Rector accounted for all four of the Spartans touchdowns. He carried the ball 35 times for 100 yards and three scores and two catches for 34 yards and a touchdown.
Edward Aldag completed 13 of 24 passes for 148 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Oxford defensive back Monte Bass , who also had an interception, broke up a Mountain Brook pass on fourth down in the end zone to seal the victory.
“We beat a very, very good football team tonight,” Grass said. “I’m just so proud of our guys.”
Now, it’s on to face Hoover on its own field with a trip to the Super 6 on the line.
“I told somebody out there I’m going to celebrate for about 30 minutes then we’re going to get ready to go to work.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.