However, the Yellow Jackets’ 13-10 victory against Oak Mountain in fall jamboree action Friday night at Lamar Field showed their faithful enough to be hopeful even after losing a senior class which included three All-Americans and eight college signees.
“I thought we played really well in the first half; we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Oxford coach John Grass. “We’d pick up about three first downs in a row and then we’d just do something crazy. We looked like a young football team, an inexperienced team, but I expected that. I knew it was going to come.”
Oxford, ranked No. 7 in the Alabama Sports Writers Association preseason poll, broke a 7-7 tie late in the third quarter on a 45-yard touchdown run by reserve running back sophomore Thomas Rudolph. The Yellow Jackets held onto their lead and secured the victory by keeping Oak Mountain, which had a first-and-goal from its own 8-yard line with about a minute left in regulation, out of the end zone.
“Really, we played better in some areas than what I thought. We had about 12 guys that we held tonight and eight of those will be on the field for us next week”
One guy Grass didn’t hold out was standout wide receiver Jarrius Orr. Orr missed most of the summer while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
His long kickoff return in the first quarter gave Oxford a first-and-10 on the Oak Mountain 26 and set up the Yellow Jackets’ first touchdown.
“I played a lot on special teams last year but this was my first time actually starting doing it,” Orr said. “I plan on taking a few back this year. That’s our goal to get us in good field position so we can score.”
After breaking off a 12-yard run to start the drive on the short field, standout junior running back Racean “Rock” Thomas reached paydirt on a 14-yard scamper, during which he eluded a defender at every level of the defense, displaying the fancy footwork that has caused the likes of Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Clemson and UCLA to offer him a scholarship.
“We didn’t tackle worth a lick,” Oak Mountain coach Cris Bell said, describing his team’s defense on Thomas’ scoring run. “Our heads were down and we just stopped our feet and he’s too good a back to do that to.”
Oxford quarterback Ty Webber and got his first taste of action as a starter in the fall, replacing former three-year starter Jackson Stephens who is now in the Cincinnati Reds minor league system. The sophomore showed promise as a passer while also exhibiting an ability to run the ball both outside and inside if need be.
“I thought he managed the game well,” Grass said. “He didn’t make any costly mistakes and threw the ball where it was supposed to be on time. He’ll continue to do that and he’ll continue to grow a lot this the season.”
All in all, it was a quality dress rehearsal that went off without a hitch as neither team suffered any major injuries during the contest.
“We got to see what we needed to see,” Bell said. “We’ve got to get better, and how much better we get between now and next Friday is really going to tell what kind of season we’re going to have.”
Oxford travels to Carrollton (Ga.) for its season opener while Oak Mountain hosts Shades Valley.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Anniston Star. . Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.