Photo/Zac Chamblee

John Rhys Plumlee was not prepared to come up short again. As he led the Oak Grove offense down the field late in a tie ballgame with Petal Friday night, Plumlee thought back to last season’s matchup and how his Warriors came up short with the ball in his hands. 

“I thought back to that time and said I’m not coming up short again….we’re not gonna come up short again.”

After Petal tied things up 19-19 on a field goal with 2:24 left, Plumlee orchestrated the game-winning touchdown drive for Oak Grove. The senior capped it off with a 1-yard touchdown run on a quarterback sneak with 30 seconds left, as the Warriors edged the Panthers, 26-19, and improved to 5-1 on the year. Petal fell to 1-5 with the loss.

It was Oak Grove’s first win in the football rivalry since 2015 and Plumlee’s first as the team’s starting quarterback. 

“When I started playing quarterback my sophomore year, they got us,” said Plumlee. “Junior year, they got us by a smidge. I wanted to go out with it. Selfishly I wanted to go out with it, but this team and group of seniors really wanted it, too. We wanted to get the last laugh, and I think we did that.”

On Tuesday, Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said he expected another instant classic between the rivals despite the difference in records. He hoped to be wrong and in for a comfortable win, but he turned out to be spot on. 

Like Plumlee, Causey called the matchup “personal” but for another reason. The fourth-year coach grew up in Petal and played at the school, and now he’s on the opposite sideline. “I love this community and everything about it, but you always wanna win that game against your hometown team.” 

Causey did just that Friday night. His Warriors started fast with a touchdown drive on the game’s first possession, as Plumlee found Tavion Smith for a score. The ensuing extra point was no good, so Oak Grove held an early 6-0 lead. 

Petal then answered with a touchdown drive of their own. Micah McGowan capped it off with a 4-yard run. With the extra point, the Panthers took a 7-6 lead into the second quarter. Around then is where penalties began to hold Oak Grove back a little bit.

“Not a lot of stuff went our way on calls,” said Causey. “All through the night it seemed like we’d make one play, and we’d do something wrong.”

Despite all of that, Oak Grove tacked on another touchdown in the second quarter when Plumlee scored on a 55-yard run, giving Oak Grove a 12-7 lead before a failed two-point conversion. Petal added a field goal from Hunter Napper in the final seconds of the first half to cut the lead to 12-10 heading into halftime. 

Late in the third quarter, Petal was able to retake the lead, as McGowan scored touchdown No. 2 on a 7-yard run. After another failed two-point conversion, the Panthers led 16-12. 

Oak Grove answered with 5:15 left in the fourth when Plumlee hit Tyson Keys for an 8-yard touchdown, giving the Warriors a 19-16 lead. On Petal’s next drive, the Panther offense drove the ball into the red zone before Napper added his second field goal of the night to tie the game, 19-19. 

As previously mentioned, Plumlee proceeded to lead the Warriors right down the field in crunch time. He busted off a big run to move the ball into Petal territory and later scored his fourth touchdown of the night to give Oak Grove a 26-19 lead with 30 seconds left. 

The Petal offense put forth a last ditch effort to tie the game, but Warrior defensive back Jarius Reimonenq ended that hope with a game-sealing interception as time expired. 

Oak Grove improved to 2-0 in district play with the win. Causey says that and not bragging rights was the priority heading into Friday’s game. “That’s huge. We gotta enjoy this one tonight and start getting ready for a tough Meridian team coming to our place next week.”

Petal will be back in action next Friday at Brandon.