Where?: Center Hill High School Football Field in Olive Branch, MS (Directions? Click HERE)
When?: Friday, September 21st @ 7:30 PM
How can you keep up?: 95.5 FM Radio, Bullseye955.com Website, OxChargerSports Twitter Account, Oxford Score Updates Page on my website using the hashtag #themhills, Channel 97 (Metrocast) Monday @ 6 PM
The lowdown: The "pre-season" is over now. The four games prior to this week were basically pre-season games - games that do not count for anything but bragging rights (especially with the Crosstown Classic). Region play starts tonight for the No. 10-ranked Oxford Chargers and the defending 1-5A Champions Center Hill Mustangs; Games that count toward the playoffs in November.
Oxford comes into this game at 4-0 for the first time since 2006 when Oxford started 8-0. Center Hill comes into this game at 1-3 and reeling from being routed in back-to-back weeks by two Tennessee teams in Briarcrest - the High School current Ole Miss Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze coached at - and No. 12-ranked Tennessee team Christian Brothers. Both teams are literally about 10 miles away from Center Hill so this isn't really much of a road trip - their football field is just 400 yards south of the Tennessee State Line.
The Mustangs are at home for the second straight week but are still struggling to find some consistency with their team. The Mustang offense has scored just 5 more points (14) than the number of Turnovers (9) in their last two games. That usually leads to the defense being put out on the field way too often and points being scored on. The Center Hill defense has put up 2 solid efforts in their first two games, but has given up 95 points in their last two. There aren't many defenses that can bail a team out over and over when a team commits that many Turnovers, especially if you are out on the field more often than the opponent's defense.
The Chargers meanwhile are coming off an off week, having last played two weeks ago at Senatobia - the High School Freeze played for (ironic, right?). This almost makes the perfect trap for Oxford to come in and be rusty after not playing for the last 13 days. That also means the defense should be fresh and ready to go after the 1-5A region schedule. The OHS defense has looked good throughout four games so far and they look to continue to keep it that way.
Oxford won last year's meeting in Oxford by a score of 34-14. That was also the one game Mont Dean was suspended for violating team rules. Center Hill reeled off 6 straight victories afterward to claim the 1-5A Region Title last year including beating West Point which went down to the wire. Oxford proceeded to have a difficult time with their region schedule and did not make the playoffs. Even though the paths after last year's game went in opposite directions than the outcome of the game, both teams would love nothing more than to start 1-0 in 1-5A play.
For Oxford to win they must: Make this Game Count - well, because these are the games that DO count. The 4-0 record means squat, it just looks good and that is all that it counts for - along with an unwanted target on their backs. Those wins do not count toward making the playoffs; these next 7 games are the ones that count. Oxford needs to play like it has the first four weeks of the season and they should be fine.
Finish in the Red Zone - Against Senatobia, Oxford in the Red Zone in the 1st Half had a Turnover on Downs, a lost Fumble, and 2 Field Goals - albeit one was with very little time left before Halftime and they had just gotten into the Red Zone on the previous play. 4 Red Zone Possessions - 0 Touchdowns, almost like the Lafayette game. Oxford did score Touchdowns from 21 and 22 yards out but technically weren't in the "Red Zone" (being at or inside the opponent's 20 yard line). The 2nd Half proved a different story as Oxford did score 2 TD's in the Red Zone from 11 and 5 yards out. Oxford needs to finish drives with Touchdowns much more often than they have been doing. This offense can be scary if they can just finish drives when they get into the Red Zone - and can put games away much quicker.
Play solid "D" - The big play bit them in the butt last game with 2 70+-yard runs (and should have been 3 had it not been for a penalty on Senatobia on a pass play). That kept Senatobia within striking distance going into the 2nd half. The biggest reason why Oxford has given up points at all is because of the big play. Oxford needs to make Center Hill earn its points by making the Mustangs drive the ball, not give up the Home Run play like it has happened several times so far this year when Oxford has given up points.
For Center Hill to win they must: Find Their Offense - Through 4 games so far, the Center Hill offense has scored just 44 points - good for just 11 points per game. They must find something that works on an Oxford defense that has shown to be stout against opponents like Grenada, Charleston, and Lafayette - two of which are defending State Champions. A good way to find their offense is to find D'Marius Gillespie who leads the state in total receptions with 27.
Win Field Position - i.e. protect the football and do not give little to defend for the Defense. A good part of the reason they have given up 95 points in their last two games is that they have had 9 Turnovers. That may stand as to why they have been routed the past two weeks to good Tennessee teams besides the defense not performing well, their offense is not helping any by coughing up the ball and putting their defense against the wall. (No rhyme pun intended)
Remember that They Have Been Here Before - Center Hill came into last year's game against Oxford at 1-3. They did lose the game to go 1-4 but they still won Region 1-5A last year because Oxford failed to make the playoffs and they won their remaining 6 Region games to finish at 6-1 in the Region and defeated West Point to claim the title. Just because they are 1-3 does not mean they are dangerous when the games that count start - and this game counts.
Weather: Mostly Cloudy (20% chance of Rain) 77*F at Kickoff. Winds from S-SSW at 8-15 MPH (Weather is for the Olive Branch, MS location). Temps will be in the upper 60s by the end of the game. There is a chance for a stray thunderstorm but it is a very small chance as weather for all other hours of the day and night is clear.
Other Notes: Center Hill is 0-5 all time in Football Region Openers (they have never started 1-0 in Region Play in Football) - this being just their 6th year to play football. However, in their last three times they have started 0-1 in Region play, they have since been a combined 15-1. D'Marius Gillespie of Center Hill leads the State of Mississippi in total Receptions with 27 (for 208 yards and 2 TD so far). Nick Brown of Oxford leads 5A in total Receiving Yards with 332 Yards and 4 TD - despite not having a catch against Senatobia.