By Jeff Dullack For Digital First Media (Photo: TZR Sports)
CLARKSTON — Although the score doesn't indicate it, Oxford put together a dominant effort on Friday night as the Wildcats looked to knock off Clarkston, the defending Division 1 state champions and the first-place team in the OAA Red.
In the closing minutes of the game, Oxford still found itself trailing 17-13 as the Wildcats had seen two drives deep into Clarkston territory in the fourth quarter stall out -- the first ending with a field goal and the second ended with a turnover on downs at the Clarkston 6-yard line with just 3:04 left to play.
But Oxford would have one final opportunity as the Wildcats moved the ball down to the Clarkston 5-yard line with the help of a Trent Myre punt return and finally found the end zone.
Facing fourth-and-goal after back-to-back incomplete passes, Oxford junior quarterback Drew Carpenter rolled to his left and connected with senior receiver Joey Miller, who made a leaping grab over a Clarkston defensive back with just 7.1 seconds remaining, giving the Wildcats a thrilling 20-17 win and spoiling homecoming for Clarkston.
"It really just came down to trusting teammates, that's pretty much what it is," Carpenter said of the game-winning touchdown. "Joey Miller and I have been friends since I don't remember and I knew once I threw him the ball, he was going to bring it down no matter what. So it was just trust in teammates, trust in coaches and trust in the whole team. We're all in."
Longtime Oxford head coach Bud Rowley said that his team had no trouble moving the ball against the Clarkston defense, but couldn't quite finish many of those drives throughout the night until the final seconds.
"We were down there all night long and we just couldn't do it," he said. "That's been our problem the whole year and we finally got the 7-5-4 (pass play) going, hit it. Power (run play) was going all night long, but we would stumble or do something silly. They (Clarkston) are a great team, a good team and we're a good team also. Our kids believe in what we do, they believe in what they do and it came down to the last seven seconds."
With Oxford (5-2 overall; 3-2 OAA Red) leading 10-3 late in the first half after a Samuel McMaken 25-yard field goal, Clarkston's Josh Luther would return the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown as time expired in the second quarter to tie the game up at 10-10 heading into halftime.
Luther would then strike again on the opening kickoff of the second half, returning the kick 81 yards for another score, giving Clarkston (6-1 overall; 4-1 OAA Red) a 17-10 lead after struggling for much of the first half.
But the two returns from Luther would be the only source of offense the Wolves would find for the remainder of the game, as the Oxford defense shut down the Clarkston offense.
Clarkston head coach Kurt Richardson was very matter of fact when summing up the game from his team's perspective and credited Oxford's performance along the offensive and defensive lines.
"They kicked our (behind)," he said. "They kicked our (behind) on both sides of the ball. They played 'Bud Ball' to perfection. They took care of the football and we couldn't do anything. They won the war in the trenches and that's where the game is won and lost."
With the win, Oxford is now just one win away from its first playoff appearance since 2014 and Rowley said that a win over a quality team like Clarkston can be a big boost for his squad moving forward.
"You beat Clarkston, brother, that's a big win," Rowley said. "That's a great mind thing. That is a great lift for the team. This is a great team. That guy (Richardson) has a great coaching staff, he's got great kids, a great community and we came over here to his house and beat him. That's big."