By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
Continuing their trend of being a second-half team, Oxford rallied past the Oak Park Knights, 14-13, at Wildcat Stadium on October 2 to improve to 2-1 (1-1 Oakland Activities Association Red).
The loss drops Oak Park, who entered the season ranked No. 10 in the MLive Preseason Top-50, to 0-3 (0-3 OAA Red).
After each team punted on their first possession of the game, the Knights scored the game’s first points when senior quarterback James Burnley found the end zone on a one-yard keeper with 3:07 left in the opening quarter.
The Wildcats, however, blocked the extra point to keep the score 6-0. Winning by just a single point, this ended up being one of the most pivotal plays in the game.
Oak Park extended their lead to 13-0 on a four-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Davion Primm, a Michigan State commit, with 11:11 left in the second quarter.
On their heels for most of the first half, Oxford caught a break with 57 seconds left in the second quarter when Primm fumbled for the second time in the quarter at his own five-yard line.
Senior Ty Myre punched it in on the very next play for his first score of the season to make the halftime score 13-6.
Receiving the football to begin the second half, the Wildcats, who were forced to begin their drive at their own 10-yard line after a penalty on the kick, did something rarely seen in a high school football game, they possessed the football for the entire third quarter, keeping the Knights’ potent offense standing on the sideline.
The drive, which lasted a total of 12 minutes and 10 seconds, culminated in a 36-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Brady Carpenter on the first play of the fourth quarter. Cutting the deficit to one point, 13-12, head coach Zach Line elected to keep his offense on the field and attempt a two-point conversion for the lead.
Carpenter found senior tight end Trent Brown, the son of longtime former co-defensive coordinator Dave Brown, wide open in the left side of the north end zone for the easy conversion to bring the score to the game’s final, 14-13.
Oak Park had a golden opportunity to retake the lead with five minutes to play, but junior wide receiver Bwana Miller dropped Burnley’s fourth-down pass in the end zone, resulting in Oxford taking over on downs.
The Knights’ last-gasp effort, positioned at about midfield, ended when junior outside linebacker Mitch Viviano sacked Burnley on fourth-down. From there, Carpenter was able to take three kneel-downs to run out the clock.
Carpenter completed four-of-11 passes for 30 yards and two interceptions but did finish as the Wildcats’ second-leading rusher with 33 yards. His touchdown run, which showcased his athleticism and elusiveness, was his first rushing score of the season.
Sophomore Tate Myre was kept out of the end zone for the first time in 2020 but led Oxford with 59 yards on 18 carries and was also the team’s leading receiver with 17 yards on two catches.
Senior Melvin Eckles saw his largest offensive role of the year, tallying 25 yards on nine rushing attempts.
Line was proud of his team for fighting back after falling behind, but also knows his Wildcats have some areas in need of fine-tuning in the immediate future.
“It was a great win; sometimes you need those, you want to see if your team is resilient and I think they were,” he began. “I try to delay my reaction to the team a little bit until I get to see the film, but that’s the résumé of the game. It was sloppy, so, we’re going to get back to work this week and correct some mistakes.
“When we played Clarkston (on September 25), I thought we came out and played fast, played physical, up front, we blocked very well, and then this week, we took a step back, so, time to get back to work.”
Defensively, Oxford held Oak Park to 196 yards of total offense and forced three fumbles. Junior Sal Vackaro led the Wildcats with four-and-a-half tackles and senior cornerback John Valvo and Viviano began to establish themselves as leaders for co-coordinators Matt Call and Ryan Clark, each posting two tackles for loss.
“Right now, we’re a second-half team,” Line said. “We have to find a way to start fast, and we’ll figure that out as coaches.
“I thought Valvo came into his own. It’s hard in practice to get the real looks you’re going to get in the game, and I think he’s growing into a really, really good corner for us.
“I thought the defense played well as a whole. Obviously, at the end of the game there, Mitchell (Viviano) came alive and kind of showed what he can do. For him, the standard has been set, it’s on film. He knows how good he can be, we just have to keep working at that.”
On October 9, Oxford will have another test reminiscent of their matchup with Clarkston, as they travel to West Bloomfield High School to battle the Lakers (2-1, 2-1 OAA Red).
West Bloomfield, who is coached by former Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Ron Bellamy, fell to Clarkston, 24-21, in overtime on October 2, but features several players who will continue their careers at the collegiate level, including senior running back Donovan Edwards, a four-star prospect and the No. 3 running back in the cycle, according to the 247Sports Composite, and junior Dillon Tatum, another tailback who holds reported scholarship offers from Indiana, Michigan, and Michigan State, among others.
“My message since I got here, and it will be for the whole time I’m here, is effort and everyone doing their job,” Line shared. “We still have a lot of pieces on our field trying to do two-elevenths, they’re just doing too much. They just need to know their role, and with a team like this (West Bloomfield), you have to be disciplined and execute.
“We’re going to have a great week of practice this week. We have to get back to that physical mentality of football, I think, as coaches, we’ve been trying to tape around too much for the weeks to get these guys fresh for the game. I think we’re going to pick up the tempo a little bit this week at practice, we have to start fast.
“West Bloomfield is a very good team; they have a good coach and a lot of good players. Just like Oak Park, they’re explosive at a lot of positions, so we have to be disciplined and, like I said, we have to start fast.”
The clash with the Lakers will kick at 7 p.m. West Bloomfield has won six-straight over the Wildcats, with Oxford’s last victory in the series coming on October 25, 2013.