HATTIESBURG – Oak Grove has long been known for its pass-happy offense, but this season the Warriors also have a sturdy running game.
The two facets of the offense paved the way for the second-ranked Warriors to pull away from George County 59-24 in the Region 3-6A opener for both teams Friday night at Warrior Field.
Oak Grove improved to 3-0 overall, while the Rebels dropped to 0-3.
“I thought we ran the ball pretty well tonight,” said Oak Grove coach Drew Causey. “We didn’t play very well in the first half, but we came out in the second half and executed. I’m proud of our guys that we got the win.”
George County gave the Warriors all they wanted in the first half, behind the running of quarterback M.J. Daniels and tailback Trent Howell.
After Oak Grove took an early 3-0 lead on Michael Owens’ 22-yard field goal, Daniels gashed the Warriors with a read option, slipping through the defense for a 67-yard scoring run.
Oak Grove came right back with a nine-play, 57-yard scoring drive, with senior Eugene Newell Jr. scoring on an 8-yard run. It was the first of two rushing scores for Newell, who finished with 63 yards on 17 carries.
Newell was complemented by senior Courtland Harris, who rushed for 82 yards in 12 carries, and he also caught a 35-yard touchdown pass.
“From the beginning of the game, we knew we were going to run it all night,” said Newell. “We were motivated, especially in the second half. We knew we had to just keep pounding.”
In all, the Warriors rushed for 191 yards, while passing for 200.
The Rebels responded late in the first quarter on a 7-yard scoring run by Howell, a junior who dashed and darted for 161 yards on 19 carries.
Oak Grove finally got its passing game going in the second quarter as junior Kabe Barnett capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 25-yard scoring pass to junior Tyrell Pollard.
Barnett added a second touchdown pass to tight end Trayvon Moore one play after the Warriors recovered a Rebel fumble at the 9-yard-line.
“I think we can be a really good offense,” said Pollard, who caught seven passes for 122 yards and three touchdowns. “We just have to keep executing every week, keep practicing hard, don’t take anyone lightly.”
George County seemed to have momentum after getting a 39-yard field goal from Jayce Pater as time expired in the first half, cutting Oak Grove’s lead to 24-17 at intermission.
However, the third quarter was a nightmare for the visitors and a feast for the Warriors.
On the opening possession of the second half, sophomore Jaylen Aborom scooped up a fumble and returned it 11 yards to the Rebel 35, and Barnett needed just one play to find Harris for a score.
On the first play after the kickoff, the Rebels again lost the handle, with junior Dontavious Howard recovering at the Rebel 28, and again, a one-play drive resulted in a touchdown on a 28-yard pass from Barnett to Pollard.
And after a shaky first half, Barnett was good on 5 of 6 passes for 115 yards in the second half, and he finished with five touchdown passes on the night.
“He’s a really good quarterback,” Pollard said. “He’s getting better each week.”
Pollard added the cherry on top for his third score, a 32-yard catch-and-run, that saw him spin his way through the Rebel defense to the end zone.
Despite the impressive second half, Causey said Oak Grove is still a work in progress.
“We didn’t play with a lot of emotion at the start,” said Causey. “We came out a little flat. We can improve a lot.”
Oak Grove will take its show on the road for the first time this season next week, when the Warriors travel to face arch-rival Petal.
— Stan Caldwell