OXFORD — There’s something about Keith Etheredge’s first Oxford High football team, and it should serve the Yellow Jackets well next week in the state finals.
“We just keep making plays,” Etheredge said. “They just refuse to lose.”
Trey Higgins’ 11-yard touchdown pass to Roc Taylor gave Oxford the lead on two-time defending 6A champion Pinson Valley with 1:16 to play, and Trequon Fegans’ pick-6 on the next offensive snap all but clinched the Yellow Jackets’ 31-28 victory in Friday’s state semifinal in Lamar Field.
Oxford (13-1) advanced to the state championship game for the first time since the school reclassified to 6A in 2006 and will face Spanish Fort (9-4) on Friday at 7 p.m. in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Spanish Fort, which finished the regular season unranked, beat Opelika 27-24 in Friday’s other 6A semifinal.
Oxford seeks its fourth state championship, the other three coming under Robert Herring in the school’s 5A glory years … 1988, 1989 and 1993.
Oxford celebrates 6A North title. pic.twitter.com/tx38Ouw6SM— Joe Medley (@jmedley_star) November 30, 2019
Oxford hired Etheredge in May, after Ryan Herring resigned to take the head-coaching job at Pierce County (Ga.). Etheredge won four state titles at Leeds and had stops at Pell City and T.R. Miller before coming to Oxford in one of the offseason’s most high-profile hires.
It wasn’t the only big offseason news for Oxford, however. Quarterback and Mississippi State baseball commit Trey Higgins briefly transferred to Rome (Ga.) High School then came back, after Oxford hired Etheredge.
“I’m so glad I came back,” Higgins said. “God works in mysterious ways. He brought me back for a reason, and this is the exact reason.
“I just can’t thank God enough for giving us Coach Etheredge. This is amazing.”
Higgins rushed for 132 yards and completed 11 of 19 passes for 186 yards. He threw both of his touchdown passes to Taylor, who caught five balls for 123 yards.
Oxford trailed 21-10 after Barry White’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Koolaid McKinstry at 9:58 of the third quarter, but Higgins answered with a 62-yard bomb to Taylor at 6:02 to close the gap to 21-17.
Taylor, who had several big catches in Oxford’s 34-33 victory at Pinson Valley in the regular season, had his big game against McKinstry, a major wide-receiver recruit who doubled as a defender against Taylor on Friday.
“Coach told me, ‘Hey, he’s a tough player, but I’m a tough player,’” Taylor said. “Big players come at big times, and I’m just going to have to make plays.”
Andrew Warhurst, who hit a 35-yard field goal in the first half, missed one from the same distance early in the fourth quarter, but Oxford linebacker Jordan Dobbins came up with a key sack of White to force Pinson Valley to punt out of its own end zone.
The Yellow Jackets took over at Pinson Valley’s 49-yard line with 3:56 to play and drove to save their season.
Higgins’ 10-yard scramble on fourth down gave Oxford first down at the Indians’ 15.
Four plays later, Oxford faced fourth down and eight from the 13. The Yellow Jackets moved Taylor into the slot with two receivers to his outside. They crossed inside, and he went outside.
Higgins’ threw the ball up, and Taylor made a leaping catch before crashing to the ground, just over the goal line.
“Coach said, ‘We designed one play for you. Go up and get it, and be my dog,’” Taylor said.
Fegans’ interception return, Oxford’s ninth defensive touchdown of the season, made it a two-score game.
White quickly moved Pinson Valley into position for his 5-yard touchdown pass to McKinstry to close the gap with 37.1 seconds left, but Oxford recovered the onsides kick and knelt away the game’s final seconds.
Oxford took the game’s opening drive 61 yards in five plays, culminating in J.B. Carlisle’s 15-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0.
A White-to-McKinstry, 71-yard bomb tied it at 7:23 of the first quarter, but Oxford retook the lead, 10-7, on Warhurst’s 35-yard field goal at 2:11.
Markel Dailey’s interception of a Trey Higgins pass set up White’s scrambling, 11-yard touchdown pass to Kennedy Thomas to make it 14-10 at 10:10 of the second quarter, and that score stood into halftime.
“This means a lot,” Taylor said. “Everybody was doubting us, telling us we weren’t going to get past the third round, fourth round. We made history at Oxford.”