By Richard L. Gaw
As it applies to the old adage, “You can't tell the players without a scorecard,” Oxford's non-league home opener against Newark was, in the case of senior safety Tyler Combs, completely non-applicable.
Combs, who was listed as Number 82 in the Oxford Hornets program but wore Number 4 during the game, picked off two passes by Newark quarterback Benjamin Campbell in a 14-7 Oxford win, and for any of the more than 1,000 who attended the Sept. 6 game who didn't know who Number 4 was at opening kickoff, they knew by game's end. His first interception, coming with two minutes left in the first half in a game tied at 7, thwarted a Newark drive that had crept to the Oxford 30-yard-line.
His second, a third quarter pick at midfield, was followed by a 31-yard pass by Oxford quarterback Ethan Herb to wide receiver Ryan Hubley that put the ball on the one yard-line, which set up a game-wining touchdown plunge by Herb on the next play.
“Tyler is a very good football player, very intelligent, and very rarely finds himself in a bad position,” said Head Coach Mike Pietlock.
Although Herb was only 5-17-130 and 5-14 yards in rushing on the night, he made his plays count big for the Hornets, now 2-0 in the young campaign. In Oxford's first possession of the game, Herb connected with wide receiver Devin Sumner for a 27-yard strike over the middle, which put the ball on the Newark 14 yard-line. A few plays later, on fourth and nine with 8:33 left in the quarter, Herb scampered up the middle and cut to his left for a 13-yard touchdown.
Newark quickly answered back to tie the score. Beginning on their own 22 yard-line, Campbell engineered a 78-yard, nine-play series that was highlighted by a 25-yard keeper, and a hand-off to senior tailback Austin Lockett, who scored on an 18-yard run with 4:18 left in the first half. However, Coach Butch Simpson's Yellowjackets (0-1) were hampered by a constant string of errors in the game, which amounted to 100 yards on 11 penalties.
Oxford was also led by Hubley's three catches for 101 yards, including a 46-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
Although Pietrock said his team never got in sync offensively during Friday's win, Oxford now sits at 2-0 on the young season, with a non-league game against winless Solanco on Sept. 13. The giddiness of a perfect start, the same record the Hornets began last season with en route to a 4-6 season, is not only a good beginning, but a lesson Pietrock is imparting to his players.
“People think, 'Oxford, 2 and 0 is some great accomplishment,' but the truth is that we've been here before,” he said. “We're 2 and 0 again, but we've got to act like we've done this before. We talked about the simple goals. We've got work to do, and this is a group that's willing to do it.”