They employed the theory many couples used at the traditional postgame festivities: Dance with the one that brought you.
Down one point entering the final quarter, Oxford rode converted running back Coty Spurling to a 41-27 win over Hewitt-Trussville. Spurling eclipsed 300 yards on his 37th carry that represented his third and the Jackets’ final touchdown.
“There wasn’t a whole lot to it tonight,” Oxford coach John Grass said of his offensive game plan. “We wanted to run the football tonight, and we stuck to it.”
And stuck with Spurling in particular.
A slot receiver by trade, Spurling carried the ball 13 of the Yellow Jackets’ 15 fourth-quarter snaps. On their final drive, he carried it all nine times of the 96-yard drive.
Explosive back-to-back runs of 30 and 22 yards all but cemented the win as the Yellow Jackets made the most of an unexpected situation. Spurling found his way into the backfield after teammate and primary tailback Racean Thomas was ejected in the game’s early stages.
While Spurling said the circumstances were “unfortunate,” it was the chance he’d been prodding the coaching staff for all season.
“I told them if they’d put me back there, I’d make something happen,” said Spurling, who finished with 301 yards.
But make this much happen? The wide smile under his head full of loose curls couldn’t lie. Even he was surprised at the outcome.
“I ain’t gonna lie,” he started, “until y’all told me, I thought I had about 200-something.
“Naw, not even that. 100-something.”
While Spurling was bad at running totals, he was superb at running. He had the 100-something by halftime, with 107 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown as Oxford led 26-14.
Instead of rolling to a comfortable win, the Yellow Jackets opened the door for Hewitt-Trussville, which was playing for its playoff life. After holding the Huskies to three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, Oxford fumbled and then threw an interception on back-to-back drives.
Hewitt-Trussville turned both turnovers into points to take a 27-26 lead just before the end of the third quarter.
And that’s when the Jackets went to their simplified offense.
Save for a 3-yard gain by quarterback Jackson Stephens, the Yellow Jackets fed their beast the ball behind their offense line, which was playing its best game of the season, Spurling said.
Good or not, senior offensive lineman Michael Flint heaped the praise right back on Spurling.
“I thought we dominated from beginning to end,” said Flint. “But (Spurling) was the one making all the runs.”
Defensively, though, the Yellow Jackets did themselves no favors. Or on special teams either.
Hewitt Trussville quarterback Carr Tigner — a poor-man’s Tim Tebow — finished with 27 carries for 170 yards, pulling the ball out of running backs’ guts all night and breaking off runs for sizeable gains.
Hewitt-Trussville punted only once, too. Which Oxford muffed and gave the ball back to the Huskies in the first half.
There were offensive miscues, too. In addition to the pair of turnovers, Oxford had trouble in its rare under-center formations. First it fumbled in a third-and-inches situation, and then later had a running back jump offsides on a quarterback sneak at the 1. On a silent count, no less.
“We had some times where we just didn’t play smart football,” Grass said. “Some of that, that’s Football 101.”
But those problems were hard for Grass to ponder too long. Especially with the new offensive gift that arrived on his doorstep.
“He’s a warrior,” Grass said.
Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.