Photo/James Pugh

Oak Grove and Horn Lake exchanged blows from start to finish of Friday’s Class 6A heavyweight bout, but the Eagles managed to land the final punch and capture their first state title with a 31-27 win at Southern Miss’ M.M. Roberts Stadium. 

Patrick Gilliam’s one-yard touchdown run with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner for the Eagles, who capped off a perfect 15-0 season with the victory. 

Oak Grove’s offense got the ball back and was afforded an opportunity to put together a 91-yard, game-winning drive with 1:14 left, but an interception by Warrior quarterback John Rhys Plumlee sealed the deal. Despite a large showing from Oak Grove fans, the Warriors fell short of their second state championship in school history and finish their season 12-3. 

Oak Grove coach Drew Causey says the atmosphere felt like home. 

“Great fan support tonight. Unbelievable,” said Causey. “I just wanna thank our whole community for coming out and supporting us. I wish we could’ve pulled it off, but our kids played awesome and with a lot of heart. They left everything out here tonight.”

Twice did the Warriors answer Eagle touchdowns with scores on their own in a fast-paced first quarter of play. After Gilliam scored on a 19-yard run less than three minutes into the game, Plumlee hit Tyson Keys for an 11-yard Oak Grove touchdown to tie it 7-7. After Horn Lake quarterback Raydarious Jones tossed a touchdown pass, Plumlee found Liam Breithaupt for a 38-yard score. The ensuing extra point was no good, so Horn Lake held on to a 14-13 lead at the end of the quarter. 

The pace of play then began to slow down a bit. Horn Lake added a field goal in the second quarter, and Plumlee added touchdown No. 3 on a 55-yard screen pass to Kevin Barnett, giving Oak Grove a 20-17 lead heading into halftime. 

“We kind of settled down and got to playing our style of football,” said Causey. 

The second half featured three lead changes. With 3:53 left in the third quarter, Horn Lake retook it, 24-20, when Jones found Octavius Williams for a 51-yard touchdown. Less than two minutes later, Oak Grove answered, as Plumlee and Barnett connected once more to put the Warriors up 27-24. 

As a team, Oak Grove finished with only 30 rushing yards, so it was up to Plumlee to lead the way through the air. In his final game as a Warrior, he did just that and completed 18-of-34 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. 

“He [Plumlee] is by far the best player I’ve ever been around; He’s the best kid I’ve ever been around,” said Causey. “You couldn’t trade him for one player, I don’t care who he was because I’ll take him over everybody. He’s the best, and I love him.”

In the fourth quarter, Oak Grove surrendered their lead when Gilliam found the end zone for the second time. The Warrior offense got ball back twice in the final seven minutes, but they were unable to put together one final answer. 

“Tonight’s hard,” added Causey. “I got 94 guys in there crying, I got mine crying. It’s tough. I couldn’t ask for a better group of seniors. They did a great job leading this football team. It will be one I’ll never forget.”