Arab didn’t win, but the No. 1 6A team in the state knew it had been in a fight after Oxford finally subdued the Knights last Thursday night, 42-14.
“They’re playing courageously,” Leigh Ozmint said at the end of the third quarter, when Arab trailed 35-14.
It was a sentiment later shared by her husband, Arab head coach Lee Ozmint.
“We showed courage tonight,” Ozmint said. “You’re never happy about a loss, but we played through a tough football team tonight.”
Ozmint should know. He was an assistant at Oxford until he came to Arab two years ago. He knew what Oxford had on its sideline.
“That is a great football team,” he said.
But Arab gave the Yellow Jackets all they could handle for three quarters in this 6A, Region 7 game. The score was 28-14 with 7:50 left in the third quarter after Arab scored on a beautiful 14-yard fade pass from Aidan Cox to Spencer Strickland.
That followed a 46-yard catch and run by Mathew Turnage on a screen pass from Cox.
With 4:12 left in the quarter, Arab recovered a fumble at their own 2 on a second-and-goal run by Oxford.
Arab, clearly playing with poise and momentum, moved the ball out to near midfield but Cox was intercepted, and the threat from the Knights basically ended. The Yellow Jackets scored on a 1-yard QB sneak on the last play of the third quarter to make it 35-14.
Still, the battle was waged.
“Y’all made us work,” an unidentified Oxford assistant yelled to Ozmint as the teams were leaving the field. Before that, Oxford players showed a lot of respect for the Knights during an extended postgame handshake in the middle of the field.
There weren’t any losers on this night.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Ozmint said. “We made some plays and made them work.
“We missed a lot of tackles but hey, a lot of it was because of Oxford’s players. They made plays. They’re hard to tackle.
“This is a legit No. 1 team and we played with them. We got outmanned. But our kids fought. We weren’t scared. We didn’t give in.”
It was exactly the kind of effort Arab school officials were looking for when they hired Ozmint. It was also the kind of effort Ozmint has been looking for all season.
“I told our players, tonight we’re going to get a character win or a character loss, and we did that (character win),” Ozmint said. “The game really was closer than the score indicated.”
That’s because Turnage had a typical Turnage night against a stout defense. He rushed for 116 hard yards on 18 carries. Cox also played well, going 12-for-21 passing for 112 yards.
Arab gained 244 yards and made 10 first downs.
Despite a valiant effort by the defense, Oxford and its plethora of outstanding athletes rolled up 466 yards of total offense.
The game took a weird turn early on as the visitor side stadium lights went out shortly after Oxford scored its first touchdown on its first possession with 7:03 left in the opening quarter. Play resumed with half the lights still out, and Arab promptly drove the field and scored the tying TD on a 31-yard Turnage run with 3:56 left in the first quarter.
Remarkably, the lights came back on shortly after Arab scored.
Turns out, it wasn’t an omen, but the Knights sure competed strongly. John Wesson Johnson intercepted a fade pass at Arab’s 6 to stop the Yellow Jackets on their next drive, but Cox quick-kicked on third down from near his own goal line.
The first quarter ended 7-7.
Oxford made it 14-7 early in the second quarter, then with 4:35 left before halftime, the Yellow Jackets made it 21-7. Arab drove late in the half but a Cox pass on fourth-and-four fell to the ground with 2.7 seconds left in the half.
Arab’s players were given a spirited standing ovation by their crowd as they left the field.
Oxford went up 28-7 early in the third quarter on a bomb before Arab came back with its short-lived comeback attempt.
Arab (4-4, 2-3 in region games) is off this week before playing its final Region 7 game at Springville on Oct. 23.
The Knights will finish the the season at home against Boaz the following Friday (Oct. 30).
Oxford (6-1, 4-0 Region 7 and still top-ranked in 6A) may be able to give Arab some assistance this week.
While the Knights are resting, Springville will play at Oxford on Friday night. Oxford still has a region game against Fort Payne on Oct. 23.