The third-year Yellow Jackets coach might have seemed quite glutton for punishment at the time, but that all-Class 6A schedule? It just might win Oxford a tiebreaker for a first-round playoff game at home.
That’s what’s on the line tonight, when the Yellow Jackets (6-3) play a non-region game at Central-Phenix City (8-1). If the Yellow Jackets win, they in all likelihood gain the No. 2 seed out of 6A, Region 7 and home field for a first-round playoff game.
How does a non-region game matter?
The top four teams in each region make the playoffs, and the top two open at home. Oxford is in a three-way tie with Clay-Chalkville and Hewitt-Trussville for second place.
Oxford beat Clay-Chalkville but lost to Hewitt-Trussville. Clay-Chalkville beat Hewitt-Trussville.
All three teams lost to region champion Gadsden City, so it goes to the tiebreaker … victories by defeated non-region opponents in the same classification.
Clay-Chalkville lost to Minor, beat Sparkman (2-7) and plays Spain Park (5-4) this week. If the Cougars Beats Spain Park, they can finish with a maximum of eight points.
Hewitt-Trussville beat Gardendale (6-3) and Minor (4-5) and plays Pelham (3-6) this week. The Huskies can finish with a maximum of 15 points.
Oxford lost to Georgia 6A power Carrollton but beat Auburn (7-1) and plays Central-Phenix City (8-1) this Friday. If the Yellow Jackets and Auburn win, then Oxford will finish with 16 points.
Turns out playing a tough non-region schedule can matter in Alabama high school football, even with a playoff, and Grass looks like a genius for giving Oxford a leg up through scheduling.
There was a lot of logic behind Grass’ scheduling approach. One, he wanted all 6A opponents, just in case the tiebreaker came into play. Two, he wanted to look south, especially in the final regular-season game, for teams he won’t face early the playoffs.
He also wanted quality teams to help Oxford prepare for the playoffs. The Yellow Jackets suffered first-round upsets the past two seasons.
Considering the schedule the Yellow Jackets have played, they should be ready for what lies ahead this week and beyond.
“Our schedule has helped us get ready for the playoffs,” Grass said. “We‘ve had a tough schedule, including our region. It‘s been a very competitive region this year.
“… When you play Carrollton, Auburn and Phenix City — we won’t play anybody during the playoffs in north Alabama any better athletically and things than Phenix City. Phenix City is a solid football team.”
But not an unbeatable team.
Central’s only loss this season came against Auburn, 20-14. Oxford handed Auburn its lone loss, 35-23.
So the key for Oxford becomes how to approach such a game, and Grass has hit the right note there, as well.
“We’re treating this like a playoff game atmosphere,” quarterback Jackson Stephens said. “… He (Grass) wants to show us what a playoff game is like, late round, because he wants us to well, late round.
“We want to win this first-round game — or this week’s game and then a first-round game — then keep going on.”
Stephens said his turf toe injury has mended, but he and backup Bobby McCain will both play.
McCain took over for Stephens in a victory over Huffman two weeks ago, and both played in Oxford’s victory over Shades Valley a week ago. Grass likes that McCain has shown a run-pass threat from the “wildcat” formation, and Grass plans to use McCain in certain down-and-distance and change-of-pace situations.
It’s another right button Grass has pushed this season, but none has proved more right than a schedule that sent Oxford into the season’s final weekend controlling its destiny for a home playoff game.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.