MADISON — You hear coaches talk all the time about the "next man up" getting it done when his number is called.
That was absolutely the case for Madison Central Friday night, as back-up quarterback Jake Norris stepped in and led Madison Central to a 31-21 win over two-time defending 6A North State Champion Oxford in the Second Round of the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs at “The Jungle” on Friday night.
The Jaguars (11-1) will travel to Starkville next week for the MHSAA Class 6A North State Championship.
“Hats off to our kids," Madison Central coach Toby Collums said. "They had to face some adversity early and they rose to the occasion tonight. It was next man up and that’s what good teams do, and we get to live to fight another day.”
Oxford led it early, as the Chargers struck first on a Roman Gregory 13-yard touchdown to give the Chargers a 6-0 lead with 3:50 left in the first quarter.
Madison Central starting quarterback Vic Sutton suffered a leg injury on the next drive with less than a minute to go in the first quarter and never returned.
Norris came off the bench and promptly gave the Jaguars a 7-6 lead with 10:07 left in the second quarter with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Blake Gunter.
“It was a definite a spark — Blake made a great play on my first drive in at quarterback,” Norris said. “I've been going second string all season and had a mindset and confidence to play our brand of football and blow them off the ball.”
Deandre Pullen had a 1-yard touchdown run with 4:45 left in the first half and Max Zuluaga connected on a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give Madison Central a 17-6 lead at halftime.
After Oxford blocked a punt and recovered it at the Madison Central 9-yard line, Charger quarterback Michael Harvey hit Omar Howell on a 3-yard touchdown pass and a successful two-point conversion cut the Madison Central lead to 17-14 with 9:13 left in the third quarter.
Madison Central responded on a 1-yard touchdown run by Connor Brown with 4:44 left in the third quarter to extend the Jaguar lead to 24-14.
Oxford cut the lead down to 24-21 with 5:58 remaining in the game on a 1-yard touchdown run by Harvey.
Norris sealed the win for Madison Central on a 17-yard touchdown run with 1:10 remaining to give the Jaguars the 31-21 lead.
“Our whole game plan was to run the ball until we couldn’t and throw it over their heads when we could,” Norris said. “We hit our holes and guys stepped up tonight. Oxford ended our season last year, so it’s good getting them back this year and now we get to move on.”
Norris finished the night 6-of-9 passing for 120 yards with a touchdown and a rushing touchdown.
“Jake is a dude. He loves playing and the situation wasn’t too big for him,” Collums said. “He knew what to do when his number called and he played well.”
Gregory had 139 yards rushing on 26 carries to lead Oxford (8-5).
“We had too many drives that we didn’t finish to get points," Oxford coach Chris Cutcliffe said. "Give Madison Central credit, they have a heckuva football team. We felt like, coming in, we’d have success running the ball, and we did. But against good teams, you have to get in the end zone."