The Jackets dropped their second game of the season, falling to Class 6A No. 2 Clay-Chalkville 37-27 at Cougar Stadium in the region opener for both teams.
It was a game the Jackets (0-2) controlled early and led entering the fourth quarter, but the Cougars (2-0) scored three touchdowns and a safety in a span of 7 minutes, 40 seconds to send them home sad for the second week in a row.
The downturn began late in the third quarter when the home side blocked an extra point after Roc Thomas’ second touchdown run of the game to leave the Jackets with a 27-14 lead.
The Cougars narrowed their deficit with a touchdown on the third play of the fourth quarter.
Brian Clark returned a punt 65 yards to put Clay-Chalkville ahead for good. With quarterback Ty Webber having to come out a play after losing his helmet, the Jackets were hit with a motion penalty in the Wildcat offense, then turned it over when a direct snap went awry.
Then the Jackets gave up a safety when Webber was called for intentionally grounding in the end zone – after Oxford fielded a punt inside the 10 -- and one play after the free kick Sidney Battle broke off a 63-yard scoring run to make it 37-27.
“The punt return is what broke our backs,” Herring said. “That was the swing that changed the game, and it was all our fault. That was us not doing our job. Instead of Clay-Chalkville beating us, that was us beating ourselves.
“That’s just how momentum is. Momentum went the other way.”
It was another tough night for Thomas, a top prospect who already has committed to Auburn. The senior running back was brilliant early in the game, but sprained his right ankle midway through the second quarter.
Although he tried to play through it, he just wasn’t the same. He had 116 yards rushing at the time of the injury but was limited to 45 on 11 carries the rest of the game.
He was limping throughout the second quarter and more noticeably as the game wore on. He played to the end, but left the field on a pair of crutches – but not before every Clay-Chalkville player made it a point to greet him -- and exited the locker room with a boot on his foot.
“I’m good; I’ll be all right,” he said as he made his way off the field. “It’s just something you’ve got to get over. When you care about the team so much, you just have to keep going, keep pushing. I tried my hardest. I was just trying to do something for my team.”
Thomas appeared back to his old self late in third quarter when his 25-yard touchdown burst gave Oxford a 27-14 lead before the blocked extra point.
It was the second week in a row Thomas had been saddled by an injury. He suffered what was described as a mild concussion in the Yellow Jackets’ opener against Carrollton.
Thomas said he doesn’t expect his latest injury to be a lingering situation. Herring was hopeful it won’t.
“I thought he did a good job of trying to play through it, I really did,” Herring said. “The sad thing is if he’s healthy there’s no doubt we win the game; they weren’t going to stop him. If the ball had bounced our way with his health the first two games … we might be 2-0 right now instead of 0-2. I tell you, when we get him healthy, when he plays four quarters, I think we’re going to be dangerous.”
The Jackets opened a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter on Thomas’ first touchdown run and a 39-yard scoring pass from Webber to Desmon Owens. Webber also threw a 16-yard fourth-down touchdown pass to Tredarian Gamble, who made a nice leaping grab on a 50-50 ball in the end zone.
Webber completed 13 of 19 passes for 185 yards. Gamble caught four balls for 81 yards.
The Jackets also made two goal line stops in the first half. Josh Snow stuffed Battle at the 1 to stop the game’s opening drive and Kenyn Richey forced a fumble late in the final 30 seconds of the second quarter to keep the Jackets ahead 14-7 at the half.
“That was unbelievable. I couldn’t be prouder,” Herring said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a defense where we had two goal-line stands in one half like that. That tells me we’ve got some heart. We’ve got some backbone.”
Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.