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Oak Grove coming to state on similar trajectory, different history than Oxford

JACKSON – Oak Grove has been here before, and as they prepare to face Oxford on Friday, some similarities can be drawn between the two teams.

Standing at the podium at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame on Monday, Oak Grove head coach Drew Causey was actually in the exact same position this time last year. The 2018 Warriors, led at the time by quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, lost the 6A State Championship a year ago to Horn Lake. This year, they’re back and taking on the Oxford Chargers.

“We’re just really excited to be here,” Causey said. “Once we got going last year, all those seniors that we had that are playing all over (in college) now, everyone kind of expected us to be there. All we heard all this year was, ‘Hey coach, you lost all those seniors. How are y’all going to be this year?’ Just to see the way our guys have had that fight mentality all year long has been really nice.”

This Oak Grove team got to this point very different from last year’s team.

Starting off the season 3-0, the Warriors dropped three straight games, two of them within their region to Petal and George County. After losing 21-7 at home to Petal, Oak Grove rattled off eight straight wins, including getting their revenge against Petal in the South-half final to return to state, winning 35-28.

Much like Oxford lost to Starkville early in the season before coming back for their redemption in the state semifinals, Oak Grove had to get through Petal the second time. Now they’re here.

“I had a gut feeling that this team could be really good,” Causey said. “We’re sitting there at 3-3 and I brought a couple of seniors and juniors and sophomores in and sat them down. We said hey, seniors you have to do a better job. Juniors, they had to bring the rest of the team along. Sophomores, we told them they had to listen. Our team kind of came a little bit closer together. We got on a roll there after that and we’ve been playing really good football.”

Causey emphasized their goal after that start was simply to find a way to make it into the playoffs. After they made into the playoffs, they knew they had a chance. All they had to do is get in.

A large part of the Warrior success over the past month has come from the quarterback position. His first year with Oak Grove, senior Damon Stewart has simply been lights out in the playoffs. In each of the first three rounds of the playoffs, Stewart has accounted for four passing touchdowns and is completing 68 percent of his throws. He’s also added three rushing touchdowns during the playoffs.

“I’d love him to do that again,” Causey said. “I think if he can have a good night, it would obviously be good for us… the best thing about him, to me, is not even what he does on the field. I have people call me and email me and say ‘man, coach he’s a great kid.’ He’s yes ma’am, no sir kind of kid and he always has a smile on his face. Sure, I hope he can throw for four or five this week. That would be really nice. But he’s a heck of a player and I’m really proud of him.”

Oak Grove and Oxford headline the Friday slate of the MHSAA state playoffs with the 6A title game from Hattiesburg at 7 p.m. this Friday.