By Buck Ringgold
Oak Grove team photo by Steven Pappas, KTVE-TV
NEW ORLEANS - On the opening series of Thursday’s Division IV non-select championship game, Homer went for it on fourth down in its own territory.
The Pelicans didn’t get it, turning the ball over on downs to Oak Grove on a short field. Moments later, the Tigers faced a fourth down of their own, at the Pelicans’ 25-yard line needing 7 yards for a first down.
Oak Grove converted that, and then some.
Senior tailback Decorian Freeman swept around the left side and dashed in for a touchdown. That put the Tigers ahead to stay, and their defense did the rest as Oak Grove won its third state title in the past four seasons, blanking Homer 17-0 at the Caesars Superdome.
“I really can’t even explain, it was just crazy,” Freeman said of his early TD run. “It was my first time in the Dome, I can’t even explain. It’s just a wonderful feeling.”
Oak Grove coach Ryan Gregory remarked there was no doubt he was going to put the ball in the hands of his senior.
“That’s what you do with Cori; Cori’s a big-play type of running back who’s a strong runner,” Gregory said. “He just hit the thing and he saw daylight and once he got there, there wasn’t anybody going to catch him.”
Oak Grove also rolled the dice on fourth down twice in a second-quarter drive that took 19 plays and nearly eight minutes to complete.
Homer appeared to force Oak Grove to punt on a fourth-and-short at its own 45. But the Tigers faked it, as upback James Harris took the direct snap and ran up the middle for 7 yards, good enough to move the chains in Pelicans’ territory.
Then, on a fourth-and-1 from the Homer 39, the Tigers quickly marched to the ball, and quarterback Jackson Bradley took a 3-yard keeper.
Oak Grove advanced to the Homer 6 before facing another fourth down. But this time, the Tigers elected to kick a field goal, and got it as Thomas Clack’s 23-yard attempt was true, extending the lead to 10-0 with 2:45 remaining until halftime.
“I think one play that may get overlooked was the fake punt; I think that was a big play,” Gregory said. “Again, our guys just executed and played tough the whole game.”
For the game, Oak Grove was 3-for-4 in fourth-down conversions while Homer was 0-for-3 in that same category.
That 10-0 lead was more than enough for the Tigers, as their defense held Homer - which won a state title last season - to 186 total yards, 103 of that via the rush. Oak Grove also forced two turnovers, both coming in its own territory.
After the Tigers got their two-score lead, the Pelicans drove inside the Oak Grove 35, but a pass was picked off by Kameron Franklin. Franklin, a senior linebacker who is committed to Oklahoma State, returned it 43 yards to the Homer 39.
That led to another field goal attempt right before halftime, but the kick sailed wide right, keeping Oak Grove’s lead at 10.
It remained 10-0 early in the fourth when Homer made another charge.
Behind a 26-yard pass from quarterback Andrevious Buggs to Katrevick Banks, as well as back-to-back 11-yard runs from tailback Ely’Jay Curry, the Pelicans reached the Tigers’ 10. However, on the next play, Homer fumbled, and Franklin made the recovery with 9:55 left.
The Pelicans forced a punt several minutes later and tried another last-gasp drive. But on third down, Harris - playing linebacker - got a sack; then on fourth down from Homer’s 22, Harris batted away Buggs’ pass attempt.
Five plays later, Oak Grove clinched the win with 56 seconds left on a 2-yard keeper by Bradley, a sophomore.
All but 22 of Oak Grove’s 266 total yards came via the rush. Freeman had 128 of those yards on 26 carries, while Bradley added 109 yards on 28 carries. He also was 1-of-3 passing, throwing a 22-yarder to Joe Layton.
Curry finished with 58 yards on 19 carries, and Gregory Williams had 54 yards on nine rushes for Homer. Buggs was 6-of-11 passing, with Banks catching three passes for 55 yards.
Following the game, Franklin was named the Tigers’ Most Outstanding Player, while Homer senior lineman Walteze Champ was named his team’s top player.
Oak Grove (12-3) once stood 3-3 after a 28-21 loss at Haynesville in Week 6.
But the Tigers didn’t lose after that, reeling off nine straight wins - including taking down the top seed in the Division IV bracket, Kentwood, in the quarterfinals - while avenging that loss to Haynesville with a 48-7 win in last week’s semifinal round.
"We sat outside that locker room in Haynesville (after the Week 6 defeat) and said that we were going to come back (and) when we played them again, we were going to be a different team," Gregory said.
"They've heard a lot of chatter, from everybody really, some of it deserved. But the way they've turned it around, I don't know if there's been a more impressive run in our history and that's saying something."
Homer finished its season 10-4, having won four straight to get to the Superdome to have a chance to repeat as state champs.