With the help of a high snap, Jones’ potential intersected with opportunity Friday to provide arguably the best moment in the Yellow Jackets’ most recent run at Class 6A football in Alabama.
Jones jumped and blocked Paul Gilley’s extra-point kick in overtime, and Oxford broke through against Gadsden City 14-13 to take command in 6A, Region 7 in the season’s second week.
“My senior class, 2012, we haven’t beaten them in three years, and everybody was expecting them to beat us again,” said wide receiver Dominique Williams, who scored both Yellow Jacket touchdowns on receptions of 31 and 10 yards. “That don’t mean nothing to us. We were going to come out there and play as hard as we could.”
The win over Gadsden City marked Oxford’s first since 2008, coach John Grass’ first season in Oxford.
The years since have seen frustrating outcomes against the region’s most talent-rich program and Oxford’s nearest region rival. The Titans won two close games against Oxford in 2010, including their second-round playoff game.
“There’s all kinds of things that happened the last three times we played them,” Oxford coach John Grass said. “It feels good to come out with a win.”
Ninth-ranked Oxford (2-0, 1-0 region) came out on top thanks in large part to Jackson Stephens, who completed 12 of 31 passes for 191 yards. His two touchdown passes balanced out two interceptions.
He also averaged 44.1 yards on six punts, a fact that helped Oxford’s defense hold the Titans (1-1, 0-1) to 155 yards in total offense. His punts included a 51-yard bomb.
Oxford also got 138 total yards from running back Racean Thomas, who rushed for 101 on 18 carries.
But the biggest men on campus were Williams and Jones, who came through with the biggest plays.
Williams’ touchdowns both came on quick screens from Stephens. Williams did the rest, breaking tackles and weaving his way into the end zone.
The 31-yarder came on a fourth-down-and-4 play and tied the game at 7-7 with 4:53 left in the third quarter. The 10-yarder came on the first snap of overtime.
“We saw that their corner was getting too deep,” Williams said. “It worked. There were times it didn’t work, but the O-linemen got out there the last two times, and I scored on it.”
Mark Pettus delivered both extra points after Williams’ touchdowns, and the kicks became crucial.
Gadsden City answered Oxford’s overtime score with one a one-snap possession of its own. Quarterback CJ Moore threw quickly to running back Albert Johnson, who broke toward the home sideline and scored.
That set up the extra point to force a second overtime, and it went wrong from the start. A high snap slowed Gilley’s approach. When he kicked, Jones was there to reject it.
“I just used my quickness and my strength to get back there and get a hand on it,” said the 6-5, 250-pound Jones, a junior playing his first varsity season. “It was just getting pressure.”
Jones and Williams took advantage of their opportunities on a night when both teams blew several.
Oxford came away empty on three big chances to score in the first half.
Their second possession started at Gadsden City’s 35-yard line and got as far as the 17, but the Yellow Jackets went backward from there and lost the ball on downs.
The next drive started at Gadsden City’s 48 and reached the 33. It ended when BJ Hammond recovered Thomas’ fourth-down fumble and rumbled back to the Oxford 33.
After Moore hit Hammond for a 26-yard touchdown pass to put Gadsden City up 7-0 at 4:57 of the second quarter, Oxford drove from its 20 to a first down and goal at the 5. Thomas gained just two yards on three runs, and Oxford elected to go on fourth down just before halftime.
Stephens escaped a blitz and scrambled to his left, but his throw to an open Thomas in the corner of the end zone bounced short.
As for Gadsden City’s missed chances, the Titans couldn’t move after recovering Thomas’ fumble. They also turned the ball over after both of Stephens’ interceptions, which came in Oxford territory in the third quarter.
Johnson fumbled one back on the next play, and Trae Elston recovered.
The other Gadsden City giveback was its most agonizing. Moore hit receiver LaGerald Malone in stride in the end zone, but Malone bobbled the ball. It bounced behind him, and Oxford’s Jerome Foreman made the interception.
Moore finished 10-for-20 for 96 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He accounted for most of Gadsden City’s offense on a night when the Titans rushed for just 59 yards.
Now, Gadsden City finds itself in a position most familiar to Oxford — hoping for another shot at its region rival in the playoffs.
“This is no heartbreak,” Gadsden City coach Joe Billingsley said. “This is part of the lesson of football. We’ve got to pull back together.
“It was a great game, and it came down to an extra point. It got blocked.”
The challenge for Oxford, which has opened with wins over Georgia power Carrollton and Gadsden City, is to put it all in the rear-view mirror in time to play a key region game at No. 6 Clay-Chalkville next week.
“The last two years, it’s kind of the way the deal has been with us and Gadsden,” Grass said. “It’s the same deal with us and Clay, but we’ve been on the other end of that deal.
“We win a triple-overtime game two years ago, and then we won on a last-second field goal last year. Going to their place, they’ll be ready to play.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.