What?: 5A Boys Soccer State Championship Game
Where?: Clinton High School Soccer Field (Directions? Go to the bottom of this article for directions to Clinton High School)
When?: Saturday, February 2nd, 2013 @ 7:30 PM
How can you keep up?: OxChargerSports Twitter Account, on the MHSAA "Play On!" website at this link (at a cost of $3.95 to view due to the MHSAA being the actual ones broadcasting the event), Play-by-Play via the iScore Soccer app website @ soccer.iscorecast.com and enter the ID# 381C41C346 and then find "Pearl / (Boys) Oxford" game. (A link will be tweeted at the start of the game).
The lowdown: This is uncharted territory. You would think of Oxford's 44 State Championships that we would have been here before.
Nope - in fact, neither Girls nor Boys soccer has ever made it past the Semifinal game of the playoffs.
That changes this Saturday as the Oxford Chargers face their old rival the Pearl Pirates for the 5A State Title; for Oxford's 45th overall Title and their first ever in Boys Soccer.
Don't let Pearl's 10-7-1 record fool you, they've played the likes of Madison Central, Oak Grove, Brandon, Ocean Springs, strong 6A schools to prepare them for this point. They have taken heavy losses to these 6A schools - but they wouldn't be in this game if they weren't prepared by those schools now would they? They have played the physical brand of soccer to get them to this point - similar to how Oxford got to this point in their first three games of the playoffs.
Pearl has not scored a lot, but that does not mean that they can't score. Oxford's defense and midfielders is going to have to do the stout job they have done that has gotten the Chargers to this point. Oxford's offense should - I repeat "should" - be able to score. The veteran front line, especially Hunter Stewart, has come up with big goals so far in the playoffs. With those players burning up the net at the right time, the Pirates, who has given up 25 goals this year - and who is only making a 20 minute drive to Clinton - will have their hands full.
Pearl's road to the Championship wasn't always pretty. In the first round they were nearly eliminated by East Central - in which it came down to Penalty Kicks to decide who would advance - and advanced officially by a score of 2-1. The Pirates got by Stone rather easily 2-0. Pearl got past a strong Pascagoula squad that made it to Clinton last year - did get help due to Pascagoula having to sit out 2 players due to Red Cards from their previous game with West Jones - and came back from a 1-0 halftime deficit to win 2-1. It is obvious that this team is resilient with these low-scoring close games.
Oxford's road to the Championship was hard-fought. They first fended off Neshoba Central 3-1. The Chargers traveled to Center Hill and grinded out a 1-0 victory in a hotly contested match. Then out-matched, out-played and exacted revenge on defending 5A Champion Starkville 3-1 to make their trip down I-55 to Clinton. Oxford is a team hungry to prove their doubters wrong.
For Oxford to win, they must: Be Aggressive - It's what they have done to get here. They've taken some fouls when they miss the ball but that has been Oxford's game all year. No reason this should not work. Being Aggressive to the ball will make Pearl have to pass it to the first open man and not up the field, just like they did against Starkville.
Stay Composed - This is for all the marbles, this is not the time to have tempers flare. The saying of "Cooler heads always prevail" works wonders in this game. Oxford has earned 4 Yellow Cards so far in the playoffs (One each by Noland, Hayden, Ansel and Ty) and their teammates smartly brought them down to earth before they overreacted to the cards issued to them.
Take Advantage of Mistakes - Last game against Starkville, Hunter Stewart took advantage of two balls from the Yellowjacket defenders - one off a bad punt and one off a quick throw (that was quickly stolen) from the keeper that got him out of position - and nailed laser shots into the goal before the keeper could react. The second time that happened was a back-breaker for Starkville and could never recover from it. Patience is key; Oxford isn't perfect, but neither is Pearl. Oxford needs to take advantage when Pearl does make a mistake like they did twice Tuesday.
For Pearl to win, they must: Score First - Oxford is very hard to beat if the Chargers score first - the other three playoff opponents and many others have found out the hard way. Any team in soccer is hard to beat if that team scores first. Pearl needs to do so and get Oxford out of their game.
Make this Game Ugly - In a good way of course, meaning make this a low-scoring defensive bout. Pearl is not known for their offense this year - scoring just a little under 2 goals per game. Make the Chargers earn their shots and score when given the chance and not let them run away from the game. In all of Pearl's playoff games, no team - not even Pearl - has score more than twice in a game.
Don't Lose Yourself - Pearl knows Oxford very well. They are big time rivals in Track, Cross Country, Tennis, really any sport that is not Football, Basketball or Baseball basically but in all other sports they are. Tensions will run high at some point. I eluded to this in one of Oxford's keys but the same goes for Pearl - both schools need to downplay their outside rivalry and just play soccer.
Weather: (For Clinton, MS location) 53*F and Mostly Clear. Winds from the W at 5-10 MPH (it will be a crosswind on the field as the field runs North-South). Rain Chance is at 10% but there should be no threat.
Other Notes: All State Championships in Soccer will be played at Clinton High School - Oxford vs. Pearl is the last Championship to be played and the 6th one to be played that day. Pearl is looking to tie Clinton for the most State Championships with 9 with a win. Oxford is looking for their first State Title in Soccer in either gender with a win.
Directions: From Oxford High School, take Miss-7 South to Grenada for 43 Miles (or alternatively take Miss-6/US-278 toward Batesville for 24 Miles), turn onto I-55 South towards Grenada/Jackson for 107 (139) Miles. Take Exit 104 to I-220 South for 6-1/3 Miles. Take Exit 5 to Medgar Evers Blvd and turn left at the end of the ramp. Turn right after roughly a 1/2 Mile onto W. Northside Dr. for 4 Miles. Turn right onto Cynthia Dr for 1/2 Mile. Turn left onto Arrow Dr. for 3/4 Mile. Clinton High School will be on the right.