“It was very emotional for me,” he said after the Yellow Jackets’ season-opener against Carrollton (Ga.). “I couldn’t have wanted nothing more than to win this game — big crowd, opening game.
“But this game is about the kids. It’s not about me, and right now, I hate it for those kids.”
Carrollton, the third-ranked team in Georgia’s Class 4A, got out to a 21-point lead at halftime and rolled to a 35-14 victory in a game that saw Oxford running back Racean Thomas missed part of the second quarter and all second half with what Herring called a “slight concussion.”
Thomas, one of the nation’s top running back prospects and an Auburn commit, rushed for 56 yards in the first half and did not return to action in the second. Oxford was down 28-7 at halftime.
“They said he could have gone back in, possibly, but there was no sense in him getting hit where he’d be our two or three weeks,” Herring said. “We’ve got a region game next week (at second-ranked Clay Chalkville).
“If it had been last game of the year, something like that, but I wasn’t going to chance losing him two or three weeks.”
Will Thomas be back for the Clay Chalkville game?
“I fully expect him to be back next week,” Herring said.
Thomas had to fight for his yards Friday, wiggling, spinning and breaking tackles against a defense that was determined to make Oxford throw the ball.
“We wanted to stop the run and make them throw the ball,” Carrollton coach Rayvan Teague said. “Not only throw the ball, but make them have to take it and work it down the field.”
Oxford quarterback Ty Webber completed 22 of 39 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns — both to Tredarian Gamble — and three interceptions.
Webber also completed seven passes to Jacob Cook for 70 yards.
“Ty made some great throws, but the biggest deal about being a quarterback is never throw it to the other team,” Herring said. “That sounds simple. That sounds elementary, but you can’t throw the ball to the other team.
“He’s just got to throw it out of bounds or tuck and run. He did a good job other times of throwing away and tucking and running, but there were times we threw it right to people.”
One of Webber’s interceptions came on a Hail Mary pass to the end zone just before halftime, but another set up Carrollton’s fourth and final touchdown of the second quarter, Trey Chivers’ 2-yard end-around with 50.6 seconds left in the second quarter.
On the upside, Webber’s first touchdown pass to Gamble came after Webber scrambled right, faked like he would cross the line of scrimmage then popped back. The fake drew the defense up and gave Gamble an opening.
The 14-yard play brought Oxford within 14-7 at 6:41 of the second quarter, but Carrollton answered quickly with help from roughing-the-passer penalty on a third-down incompletion. Will Garrett’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Turner to make it 21-7 at 3:02.
Webber’s second touchdown pass to Gamble was a jump ball to the back corner of the end zone in the fourth quarter, and Gamble won the tipped ball battle with Dante Wigley to provide the game’s final margin.
“There’s no better set of hands in Alabama,” Herring said of Gamble, who followed him from Lincoln.
Garrett spearheaded Carrollton’s offense, completing six of 12 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown and sneaking for two touchdowns before exiting in the third quarter in favor of backup Will Hesterlee.
A 41-yard pass to Turner set up Garrett’s second touchdown sneak, which put the Trojans up 14-0 at 10:52 of the second quarter --- a minute and two seconds after Garrett’s first touchdown sneak.
Three plays before Garrett’s second touchdown sneak, Carrollton kicker Tyler Newsome hard-topped a kickoff that bounced off Cook on the front line of Oxford’s receiving team. Carrollton recovered.
“We got kind of lucky there because the kid didn’t get out of the way,” Teague said.
Just one of many mistakes Herring saw in his first game as Oxford’s head coach.
“We gave them stuff,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, whether it’s Carrollton in game one or Spain Park in game 10. You can’t hand them the ball. You can’t get beat deep. You can’t rough the passer when you’re off the field.
“We did a lot of things that shot ourselves in the foot.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.