Rivalry Renewed: Crosstown Classic kicks off season for Oxford, Lafayette

Published 7:30 am Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Under one special community, two successful public school districts and two successful high school football programs will get after each other to start off the weekend and their respective seasons.

On Friday, the Crosstown Classic football matchup played annually between the Oxford Chargers and the Lafayette Commodores will take place at William L. Buford Stadium at 7 p.m. on the Lafayette County School District’s campus.

In the series that’s been played every year since 1972, Lafayette holds a very slim all-time advantage with a 25-24-2 record. If one counts the only playoff matchup back in 2004 won by Lafayette, the Commodores have a 26-24-2 all-time series record. However, the Chargers have dominated the series over the last decade, having won nine of the last 11 matchups, with most of those won in convincing fashion. Prior to that, the ‘Dores won six consecutive games in the rivalry, all underneath a head coach that will also officially begin his second stint with the program Friday.

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Anthony Hart is back at Lafayette, where he led the Commodores from 2005-2011 before stepping away to assume the school’s athletics director position for the next two years. While leading the ‘Dores, Hart compiled a remarkable 80-16 record. In his final two seasons, he led Lafayette to back-to-back Class 4A State Championships while winning 32 consecutive games and becoming the first team in Mississippi to ever post a 16-0 record.

Over the last decade, Hart led teams at Franklin County, Madison Central and, most recently, Brookhaven Academy before returning to the place where family is important to him.

“When I think about my coaching career, Lafayette is just what I am,” Hart said. “It was a place where our family grew up. It’s a great school and our friends are still here. Those things made it really comfortable to come here.”

Although Hart has been part of some big games at Lafayette, few have been bigger than those facing his cross-town rival Oxford.

“The fans and the community, they put a lot of stock in this rivalry, more so than some other places I’ve been,” Hart said. “I’ve been in some rivalries, but nothing like this. There’s definitely that added flavor of the rivalry that will always be there when these two play no matter what sport it is. It’s big in football because it’s the start of everything with the school year, football season. It’s really important to the fans and the community.”

Hart was 6-1 against Oxford during his first Lafayette stint, but is currently 1-2 head-to-head against Chris Cutcliffe, who’s entering his eighth season as the head coach of the Chargers. Both coaches squared off while Hart was at Madison Central. Hart is fully aware of what to expect from a Cutcliffe-led team.

“They’re going to be prepared,” Hart said. “If you have weaknesses, they’re going to hit you on them. You have to know you as much as you know them. They’re going to find your weaknesses in different spots, and you have to be able to hold up there.”

Cutcliffe is also not new to this rivalry, as a former player, assistant and now head coach. As a head coach, Cutcliffe is 5-2 against Lafayette, winning the most recent matchup last season at Bobby Holcomb Field 43-19.

“I think it’s really a unique rivalry,” Cutcliffe said. “A lot of rivalries around the state, there are towns that are nearby and everything, but we’re all in this same community. They go to church together, are friends outside of school and outside of work. The close relationships make this rivalry so unique.”

After having already faced Hart a couple times, Cutcliffe believes that no matter the team, all of Hart’s teams have something in common regardless of talent or experience.

“His teams are always physical, disciplined and have always been able to run the football effectively,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s always impressive to turn on the film and watch a Coach Hart team… I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Hart and what he’s done in his career.”

Both head coaches were willing to share their fondest memories from the Crosstown Classic.

For Hart, his came during his second season in 2006 where he elected to attempt a 2-point conversion that succeeded in overtime to knock off Oxford 29-28 in what also doubled up as a district game at the time.

For Cutcliffe, his best memory came in 2012 while serving as Oxford’s wide receivers coach under Johnny Hill. That season, the Chargers not only snapped a six-game losing streak to Lafayette, but also snapped Lafayette’s 34-game winning streak in front of a regional audience, broadcasted on Fox Sports South.