What?: North Half Championship Game of the MHSAA 5A Playoffs
Where?: Bobby Holcomb Field
When?: Friday, November 28th @ 7:00 PM
How can you keep yourself updated?: 95.5 FM Radio, Bullseye955.com, @OxChargerSports Twitter account
The Lowdown: The two schools played each other in futbol on Tuesday. The two games were split down the middle with Oxford's Girls winning by 3 goals and Pearl's Boys winning by 3 goals.
There is just a different feeling about this football game - it won't be split down the middle.
Last year, Oxford eliminated Pearl from the playoffs 39-21 en route to a State Title Appearance. Now not only does Oxford want to get back there by defeating Pearl again, but win it all too.
Pearl has a stout running back in Jordan Wright who has nearly rushed for 3,000 yards and has scored 41 Touchdowns according to Maxpreps. Wright holds the all-time state single-game touchdown record of scoring nine in a single game this season against Bastrop (LA) - who is 73rd ranked in their own state according to Maxpreps. Wright IS their offense. The Pirates haven't had a game where they had to throw the ball a lot lately - especially after starting the season 0-3. Four of the team's seven Interceptions came against NW-Rankin. Whenever they have faced a good team with a good defense, they falter. The problem they face entering this game is overdoing Wright: he has rushed it 350 times this season - right on pace for that 25-30 carries a game I talked about last week that burns out a running back over the course of the season. They don't change running backs often. Their next non-QB back has rushed it only 46 times this season - and likely most of it in garbage time. If Wright ever goes down, they will have problems on offense. The Pearl offense without Wright is one-dimensional. Wright accounts for roughly half of Pearl's entire total offensive yards.
Not only is this Pearl team facing a good defense, they are facing an offense of their own that doesn't rely on one player and isn't one-dimensional. They have to worry about where Jack Abraham is going to throw the ball, they have to cover DK Metcalf (which is never easy), Zach Cousar, Kyree White, Kenzie Phillips and company for 48 minutes which all but one team has not been able to do all year even with pieces missing. Yes, one team has outlasted the offense for 48 minutes but not contain them and Clarksdale contained a weaken offense but couldn't put points on the board. Pearl has been running a Cover 3 defense all year - exactly what Ridgeland ran that was torched for 62 points.
This game is going to boil down to can Pearl's offense and Jordan Wright keep up and can Pearl's defense stop Oxford enough for the Pirates to keep up? If Pearl finds themselves behind with time running out, throwing the ball against this secondary will not be easy.
For Oxford to Win, They Must: Make the Pirates D Walk the Plank - This is identical to Ridgeland's defense which was exploded for 62 points and could have been a lot more had the horses not been recalled. Pearl has better players on defense, but they have this WR corp. to deal with and that bruising RB Oxford has.
Sink the Jordan Ship - It's obvious who Pearl will give the ball to and who they play off of. This is similar to how West Point did Aeris Williams last year. He is their offense. Stop Wright and you will have this offense on their heels.
Execute Special Teams - Pearl knows the tricks of the trade and won that battle last year preventing Oxford from scoring a few more points and kept the Pirates in the game. This phase of the game may give Pearl that chance. It's up to Oxford to not give Pearl that chance because the Chargers are certainly good enough in the other two phases to not keep them in it.
For Pearl to Win, They Must: Control the Line of Scrimmage - This is obvious for Wright to get going. He doesn't get all those yards on his own. This OL must put a hat on a hat and give Wright good holes to run through and to open up the passing game that they do have.
Be Able To Win One-on-One Sword Battles - Zone-will-not-work. Pearl can't take away every effective weapon Oxford has. They must win their battles in man coverage, especially against Metcalf where they need to win a reasonable share to give themselves a chance. If they try to double Metcalf, that gives the running game and Kenzie Phillips a chance.
Control the Treasure (the Ball) - If Wright gets going enough, they can keep Oxford's O on the sidelines and will make it hard to keep a rhythm and give the defense needed rest if Pearl can execute long drives for scores.
Other Notes: A win by Oxford will give the Chargers back-to-back State Championship appearances and North Half Championships for the first time in school history. Oxford is 5-0 in their last 5 such games when facing teams who have active win streaks in the double-digits (Charleston 2011 - 14, Lafayette 2012 - 34, Jackson Prep 2013 - 13, Starkville 2013 - 12, Callaway 2013 - 14 / Pearl currently owns an 11-game winning streak)