The Yellow Jackets fell to 0-2 after a 24-12 loss to Gadsden City Friday night at Titans Stadium in their Class 6A, Region 7 football opener.
Oxford jumped out to an early nine-point lead against the Titans, ranked No. 5 in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll, but went scoreless the final 36 minutes of the game to make it two double-digit losses in the first two weeks of the season.
The defeat comes just a week after a 43-21 man-handling suffered on the road against Carrolton (Ga.) in Week 1.
“It’s a region loss. That’s tough. It puts our backs up against the wall a little bit,” Oxford coach John Grass said. “We still want to play a home game in the first round of the playoffs. That’ll be our goal. We’ve just got to get better and get ready. We knew this schedule would be tough on us early, but what doesn’t kill you makes you better.”
The Yellow Jackets will host Clay-Chalkville, a team that was ranked in the preseason top 10, next week at Lamar Field before traveling to Austin and entertaining No. 7 Auburn in a Week 5 matchup.
Grass said his team made marked improvements Friday from its game last week where they were defeated handily. In the first quarter, against the Titans it appeared as if they were up to upsetting the Titans, in what has become somewhat of a rivalry game the past few seasons.
Oxford drew first blood, scoring a 59-yard touchdown pass off a reverse pass from one two-way starter, Bobby McCain, to another, Trae Elston.
Quarterback Jackson Stephens gave the ball to McCain on what looked like a reverse on second-and-10 from the Yellow Jackets’ 41-yard line. McCain, who along with playing cornerback also serves as Oxford’s second-string quarterback, cocked back his right arm and unloaded a strike to Elston running a fly route down the right sideline.
Elston caught the ball in stride down the right sideline and took to the end zone to give Oxford a 6-0 lead with 8:28 to go in the game. The point after attempt was blocked.
Gadsden City got all the way down to the Yellow Jackets’ 16-yard line but Oxford’s defense clamped down and the Titans had to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Paul Gilley with 4:11 to play in the quarter.
That brought Gadsden City to within three at 6-3.
Stephens connected with McCain on a 25-yard touchdown pass with 52.8 seconds remaining in the first. The Yellow Jackets elected to go for 2 but failed on an incomplete pass from Stephens. McCain finished with four catches for 59 yards.
Then it all began to fall down for the Yellow Jackets.
Stephens threw his second of four interceptions on the night when he was picked off with 38 seconds to play in the first.
Gadsden City scored its first touchdown on a 3-yard pass from quarterback Matthew Banks to running back Alonzo Harris with 24.8 seconds left in the second to go into halftime behind 12-10.
The-6-foot-1, 201-pound Harris pounded Oxford for 155 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.
Titans’ safety Anthony Swain made the play of the game just 54 seconds into the second half.
The Auburn commit broke on a Stephens pass, picking it off and taking it 21 yards for a score that put the Gadsden City ahead 17-17 with 11:06 to play in the third, a lead they’d never relinquish.
“An average guy can pick it off,” Gadsden City coach Joe Billingsley said. “A really exceptional guy can pick, flip it, tip it and catch it and score. That’s his ability. He’s doing such a good job.”
Gadsden City (2-0) also did a great job of limiting the Yellow Jackets’ rushing attack, holding Oxford to just 18 yards on the ground.
Stephens led the way for the Yellow Jackets, completing 11 of 25 attempts for 219 yards. It was dip in production from the 25-for-35 and 259-yard performance he put up against Carrollton.
“We’ve got to continue to get better upfront, controlling the line of scrimmage,” Grass said of his offensive line unit. “I felt like we got better this week. If we continue improving, we’ll have a good offensive line.”
In a game where both teams were penalized for a combined 245 yards, Oxford had two touchdowns called back.
Holding calls, took away an 80-yard touchdown catch by Coty Spurling and a 97-yard kickoff by McCain in the third.
Oxford reached the Titans’ 24 with 7:17 left to play but one of Malik Davis’ two interceptions ended the game.
Harris added the game’s final score on a 3-yard run with 1:09 to play.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 235-3575.