It was a game for the ages last Friday night when Oxford and Arab hooked up at the Sportsplex with championship hopes on the line for both teams.
Unfortunately for the home crowd, the Knights failed to claim their first championship in the region era of Alabama High School Athletic Association football.
Rey Barrera kicked a 37-yard field goal with 5.2 seconds to play as Oxford rallied from a 17-0 deficit to stun Arab 26-24.
6A, Region 7 is now up for grabs with Arab (6-2) still leading at 4-1 but needing help to beat Oxford (4-3, 3-1). The Yellow Jackets still must play Springville and Fort Payne, which also improved to 3-1 with a win over Southside-Gadsden last Friday.
Arab has already defeated Fort Payne and will face Springville in two weeks. If Oxford beats Fort Payne, the Yellow Jackets will defend their region crown.
But if they don’t, Arab will win the tiebreaker with Fort Payne – assuming both Arab and Oxford beat Springville.
It’s not the way Arab players, coaches and fans wanted it to go. When Barrera’s kick slipped inside the right upright, many Knights players fell to the ground in heartbreak.
Meanwhile, Oxford players ran onto the field and celebrated like they’d won the state, which they’ve done four times before.
It was that kind of back-and-forth game.
“That’s a good football team over there,” a disappointed Arab coach Lee Ozmint said pointing to the Oxford sideline. “They’ve got all their players back now.
“We knew how good they were.”
Still, Arab looked so good early, then late when it drove for the go-ahead score while draining almost the entire fourth quarter clock.
But it wasn’t meant to be – at least not yet.
“We didn’t shut the door on them when we could,” said Ozmint, a former Oxford assistant. “They made plays down the stretch.
“We got a chance to play for a championship, and we still have to play it out. We’ve got work to do and I’d say that after a win.
“But I know how this bunch is going to respond. I love how we’re going to respond to this.”
Arab’s Johnson twins – quarterback James Ed and wide receiver John Weson – put on a stirring performance in the first half, connecting twice on long TD passes.
But it was Oxford QB Samuel Robertson who eventually stole the show. He passed 14 yards to E’mari Carroll for Oxford’s first score to make it 17-7 with 5:19 left in the first half, then ran in a TD from 1 yard out to make it 17-17 with 6:09 left in the third quarter.
Starting late in the third quarter, Arab drove 84 yards in 22 plays to take the lead with 2:47 to play, leaving Oxford with very little time. Ed Johnson scored on a 1-yard sneak.
But Robertson drove the Yellow Jackets to a TD in four plays, with Jaydon Thomas running it in from 6 yards out with 1:41 left. The big play was a 37-yard run by Carroll on a Statue of Liberty play, and a personal foul by Arab at the end of the run put the ball on the Knights’ 6.
First-year Oxford coach Sam Adams went for the win, but Robertson’s pass to the end zone was high and Arab still led 24-23.
Oxford had all three timeouts and kicked onsides. Ed Johnson recovered for Arab at the 50. Oxford used its timeouts and got the ball back at its own 20 with 1:13 left. That was just enough time for Robertson to drive the Yellow Jackets into field goal range and the win. Barrera also connected on a 33-yard field goal with 4 seconds left in the first half to make it 17-10.
“I’m unbelievably proud to be the coach at Oxford,” Adams said outside a jubilant Yellow Jackets locker room. “Getting down 10-0 in the first quarter, these players had every opportunity to lay down.
“But they did nothing but battle back. I told them after the game, there might have been a time earlier this season when they might not have battled back, but this is a whole different football team.”
For one thing, Oxford played with all its starters for the first time this season.
“It’s the first time we’ve had all our starters since the first quarter of the jamboree game,” he said.
Robertson was 18-of-28 passing for 192 yards. Thomas ran for 101 yards on 19 carries. Carroll had 58 yards on five receptions.
Ed Johnson was 13-of-20 passing for 230 yards. Wes Johnson had seven catches for 133 yards including TD receptions of 39 and 49 yards.
Ed Johnson also gained 75 yards on 33 carries.
Drake Franklin had eight carries for 22 yards and Hayden O’Reilly gained 15 yards on three attempts.
Brody McCain had three receptions – all on big plays – for 63 yards, and Drew Puccio had two catches for 28 yards.
Arab had 342 yards of total offense and Oxford had 325.
Mitchell Duquette led a strong Arab defensive effort with five solo tackles and four assists. Jonah Humphries and Josh Roe each made six solo stops, and Humphries assisted on another tackle. Roe also had a fumble recovery at the Oxford 32 when the Yellow Jackets misplayed a high and short kickoff by Gavin Currier after Currier gave Arab the lead 3-0 with a 28-yard field goal with 8:17 to play in the first quarter.
Two plays after Roe’s recovery, Ed Johnson hit Wes Johnson with 39-yard TD pass down the middle of the field to make it 10-0.
The brothers connected on a 49-yard scoring play with 7:50 left in the second quarter to make it 17-0. Wes caught a square-in on the sideline and eluded two tacklers before sprinting to the end zone.
O’Reilly and Jacob Cobb had four solo tackles. One of Cobb’s stops was for a loss, and both also had one assist each.
Patrick Lawler had three tackles and two assists.
Arab last won a championship in 1993 when it competed in 6A, Area 14.
The AHSAA went from a six-class system with 16 areas in each class to eight regions in each class beginning with the 2000 season.