The CL's last poll was November 5th until the end of the State Championships when they will release a final poll, ditto for MPB on November 13. Maxpreps updates their computer rankings every week on Sunday Night.
Note* - I will use the team's seed instead of any poll as a "rank" during the course of the playoffs.
What?: 5A State Championship Game of the MHSAA 5A Playoffs
Where?: Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium @ Jackson, MS (Directions? Click HERE)
When?: Saturday, December 7th @ 7:30 PM
How can you keep yourself updated? (All of the following are the known outlets as of release time): 95.5 FM WOXD Radio, Bullseye955.com, @OxChargerSports Twitter Account. State-Wide TV on the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Channel (MPB - see local listings).
The Lowdown: Oxford has made a lot of history so far this season. First ever Charger team to have 14 wins in a single season, Jack Abraham has broken school records, and have won North Half for just the second time in school history.
They still have more to make - like obtaining their first Gold Football in school history (not to mention an undefeated season). One team stands in their way - the Picayune Maroon Tide.
Picayune has won two State Championships - one in 1986, and one recently in 2011. Obviously that would make the one advantage they have is those Seniors this year were Sophomores the year they won it, so they have some experience. Oxford may not have the experience of being in the Title game, but in other spotlight situations (National TV game last year, defeating Jackson Prep, Starkville, West Point, Pearl, and Callaway this year) they have thrived. No doubt this is the biggest spotlight game of them all.
Picayune bases their offense on the ground - more so than Callaway was. They are close to an 85/15 running team, passing only roughly 15% of the time. Their rushing attack is based on one main back but they do go to a second back. The quarterback does not run the ball often and has only been involved in 124 plays this season (thrown it 87 times ALL YEAR to 37 rushes) when not handing the ball off. When he does throw it - 14 of the 53 completions have been for Touchdowns, so they do throw it effectively, but mainly because of their ability to run the football. Teams that have thrown it that few times when they trail in a football game will eventually make a mistake and only think about throwing it to one or two receivers.
One thing Picayune has not seen all year long is a solid passing attack - of all the teams they have faced (that have put up stats), the most amount of times any team has thrown against them is 20 times - and of those that have thrown against the Maroon Tide, they have not defended it well. It is one thing when a team that throws only throws it enough to keep the running game honest, it is another thing when facing a team that throws the ball and knows where they are going with the football and THEN they run the ball. Jack Abraham - among games where he has played all four quarters - has thrown it 35 times a game. They have also not seen a team that uses every single player they have on offense. Oxford just does not have one completely dominant wide receiver to cover up, they have four. Oxford's fourth leading receiver has 45 receptions; Oxford's leading receiver has 49 receptions. THAT is how even it is. When they throw somebody else out there - they aren't a decoy, Oxford uses them too.
Let's not leave out Oxford's rushing attack (a big reason why Oxford has thrown it well is because of the established run game) - while teams have figured out Oxford can run the ball, the Chargers still run it effectively. Oxford's offensive line should be able to do what they want - as Picayune has given up 7 yards per rush. Kenzie Phillips could have both rushing records before it is all said and done. He needs 110 rushing yards and 3 rushing Touchdowns to break both rushing records at Oxford High School currently held by Mont Dean. Oxford has gained more than 5,900 yards of offense - you do the math on that out of 14 games played.
When Oxford made it to the State Championship game in 2003, they were a 4-seed from their region that was happy they even made the playoffs let alone have a chance to win the whole thing. This time, they are Champions from their region, and they are not satisfied with just winning North Half. They know they have what it takes to win it all, and now is the time to prove it once again that they are a force to be reckoned with in 5A not just now, but for the next couple years.
This has been such a ride of a season. Oxford waited so long to face Jackson Prep, then the sudden loss of new OHS Student Sarah Bial who was killed in a car wreck - to this day, the football players still wear the "SB" decal on the back of their helmets. Tommy Knight suffered a season-ending off the field injury not too much later. A parent later died from cancer of the OHS Band. These Chargers hasn't let a thing bother them this season, and what is to stop them from winning this title not just for Oxford, but for the fallen? Their focus has been there all season long, and now they just need to focus for one more game.....
For Oxford to Win Their First Championship, They Must: Stop the Run - Oxford has been doing it all year long, they've stopped Aeris Williams, DK Buford, Callaway's 3-headed trio, Pearl's explosive run game, Diamante Pounds, and any other team that has attempted to run the football. If they stop Picayune's run game, you might as well give that Gold Football to the Chargers now because the Tide can't throw it when they have to. Oxford has only given up 142 rushing yards per game. They average less than 4 yards a carry. If Oxford forces Picayune to a situation where they must throw the ball, well...let's just say that has a high chance of not working.
Execute the Offense - Picayune gave up SIXTY-ONE points to Petal, and a lot more to other teams. Their one shutout was to a bad George County school. Oxford and its high-powered offense which does a great job of being 50/50 run/pass should have no problems at all scoring - Callaway was the best defense they will see all year, the Maroon Tide have no where near the defense that the Chargers saw last week.
Calm the Nerves - Oxford cannot get big-eyed. Both of Oxford's first possessions on both sides of the ball needs to be positive. The defense to make a stop; the offense to make at least a couple first downs if not score. If that happens, they will forget being on the big stage and just focus on the game itself.
Be Solid on Special Teams - Oxford had another blocked PAT and missed two Field Goals last week and allowed a punt return to set up Callaway on the door step for their lone score - most of Oxford's points they have given up in the playoffs have attributed to Special Teams play - did show some shine late in getting a Field Goal and pinning Callaway inside the 20 with no chance to return it late. Oxford just needs to execute in this area and they will be fine. The Chargers have coughed up at least a Touchdown's worth of points in every playoff game so far through Special Teams.
For Picayune to Win Their Third Championship, They Must: Slow Down that Offense - It'll be hard to replicate what Callaway did defensively against Oxford simply because they don't have near the athletes on defense. This defense has given up a solid number of points all year - their high-powered running based offense has helped cover up what the defense hasn't been able to do. In their two losses, their offense scored 26 and 58 points - and lost.
Establish the Run - Their basis of their offense. They have scored at least 26 points in every game this season largely based on their running game. They have averaged 350 rushing yards per game. This will help set up the few passing plays they have. The Charger Defense will be the most talented defense they will face all year. Every team Picayune has faced has given up 4 Touchdowns to at least TWO opponents their opponents have faced other than Picayune - Oxford is their first team they will face that has not done so.
Win Up Front - Defensively, Picayune gives up 7 yards per carry - that should worry them against one of if not the best offensive lines they will face all year. Oxford's defensive line will be the best they have faced all year against 3 hard-to-block linemen (against Tall-lanky Darrius Liggins, a 5'1" Nose Guard because of how undersized he is hard to block, and Kevin Whitney and Korbin Harmon are monsters on the other side) and a linebacker corp. who has a knack for finding the ball.
No Turnovers or Special Teams Mistakes - The last thing you want to give Oxford and their offense is a short field. Oxford had 5 takeaways last week of which three they forced and they partially blocked a punt to which they have four to their credit on the year. If Oxford is going to win, make the Chargers start some 60-80 yards away from the goalline and not on the porch of your red zone (let alone in it).
Other Notes: With a win, Oxford will have earned their "Diamond" Championship - their 50th State Championship in school history. This would be their first state Title in football. Oxford is 0-2 all time in the month of December in Football.