Last Friday’s weather concerns hardly fazed the Oconee County football team.
After lightning postponed the start of the game by an hour, the Warriors defended their home field with a 27-19 win over Cedar Shoals.
While the wet field made little difference in the game other than a few slips, players had to prepare again mentally for kickoff.
“It’s really all a learning situation for them,” said head coach Travis Noland. “It’s a lot of time. It’s not just from 7:00 until kickoff at 8:30, we’ve been here since school’s out at 3:30, so it just makes it a lot longer, but I thought they handled it well.”
Before the game, Oconee County had to find a way to prepare for the Jaguars. Cedar Shoals had not yet played a game due to COVID-19 delaying its season debut. The Warriors had some film on the Jaguars, but mostly focused on their own abilities, a factor they knew they could control.
It proved rewarding at Warrior Stadium on Friday.
With three minutes left in the first quarter, quarterback Jacob Wright scored the first touchdown for his team, running the ball into the end zone from the 1-yard line.
Cedar Shoals waited until the start of the second quarter to respond. With 11:16 on the clock, the Jaguars completed a 45-yard rush to even the score 7-7.
A fumble by the Warriors turned the ball over on their following possession. Cedar Shoals used the opportunity to score a second touchdown.
The Jaguars’ momentum didn’t last long. Darius Johnson Jr. blocked the extra point for the first of his two blocks on the night.
Johnson Jr. showed his offensive skill to help score Oconee County’s next touchdown. With 7:08 left in the half, Wright passed for 17 yards, deflecting off teammate Jake Johnson’s hand and into Johnson Jr.’s in the endzone.
Despite an interception from Wright in the last minute, Cedar Shoals did not take another lead before the half, trailing 14-13.
Noland entered the locker room with his team frustrated with their performance.
“I told them we need to play with more heart,” Noland said. “It wasn’t about anything other than I didn’t feel like we were playing inspired, emotional football, and that comes from inside each individual. I thought we responded well, especially in the third quarter.”
After the teams retook the field, Oconee County answered its coach by scoring a touchdown less than a minute into play. Wright completed a 46-yard pass to Jack Ward to extend their lead 21-13.
Nearing the end of the quarter, Johnson Jr. again contributed offensively for Oconee County with 2:53 on the clock. He received a 34-yard pass from Wright for his second touchdown of the night. A missed PAT made the score 27-13.
The Jaguars weren’t done with the game. They opened the final quarter with a 3-yard rushing touchdown. But again, Johnson Jr. blocked the extra point.
With 30 seconds left on the clock, Cedar Shoals worked from Oconee County’s 40-yard line to even the score. An interception by Oconee’s Kyle Strickland ended the Jaguar run, and the game, with a final score of 27-19.
Johnson Jr. finished the game with two touchdowns, 63 receiving yards, two tackles and two PAT blocks. He credits his teammates for his success within the game.
“We knew it was going to be a fight and it came down to who played the best football and obviously we did,” Johnson Jr. said. “I couldn’t have done it without my team.”
Despite the rain issues, Wright finished the game with 153 passing yards and a 47.8 completion percentage.
“I just had to settle down and not worry about anything else and just do what we do,” Wright said.
With two games under his belt this season, Noland expressed his need for the team to minimize mistakes and polish plays.
“We need to quit shooting ourselves in the foot with foolish penalties or a bad snap,” Noland said. “We had several drive stops that were our mistakes and not necessarily anything they did. That comes from playing, but we just need to keep trying to eliminate mistakes and try to be a little bit better.”
The Warriors will now travel to play Clarke Central High School this Friday.