Oxford’s comeback against Octorara falls just short
By Steven Hoffman
How close was Oxford to completing an amazing fourth quarter comeback against Octorara last Friday night?
By one measure, the Hornets came within one yard—that’s the distance an Oxford running back needed to reach the end zone on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game at 42-42 with 21 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But the Braves’ defense stopped the ball carrier just short of the goal line and preserved a 42-20 win—much to the dismay of of a large Homecoming crowd in Oxford on Sept. 26.
The Hornets spent nearly the entire game chasing the Braves—on the scoreboard and on the field as Octorara quarterback Alex Gooden and running back Corey Cooper eluded would-be tacklers all night, rolling up more than 350 yards on the ground between them.
It took the Braves less than three minutes to score on the game’s opening drive, with Cooper racing in from 44 yards out, the first of three rushing touchdowns he would have on the evening.
Oxford answered right back. Quarterback Dan Green picked up right where he left off during last week’s 53-47 win over Kennett, firing a 63-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Josh Mosley. The two-conversion failed so the score was 6-6 before fans had time to settle in their seats.
Gooden took the ensuing kickoff at the 18-yard line and raced toward the left sideline. Oxford’s coverage team seemed to be close to bringing him down before Gooden escaped and broke back across the field, rumbling 82 yards for the score. Cooper completed the two-point conversion to make it 14-6.
Cooper and Gooden continued to torch Oxford’s defense in the second quarter. Cooper rumbled 23 yards and later scored from one-yard out during one drive, while Gooden broke several tackles for a spectacular 46-yard touchdown run. Just like that it was 28-6.
Green turned to his favorite target, Ryan Hubley, during the next drive. Green and Hubley teamed up for seven touchdowns, a state record, a week earlier, and they combined for a big play when Oxford needed it. Hubley hauled in a ball with his fingertips and raced along the left sideline for a 52-yard gain. Three plays later, Oxford running back Zach Deasey scored a touchdown from two yards out. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the score at 28-12.
Octorara tacked on to its lead with 1:39 left in the first half when Cooper broke free for a 29-yard run down the right sideline.
The Hornets worked quickly to reclaim the momentum. Green led Oxford down the field with a 20-yard completion to Mosley and a 27-yarder to Michael Williams. The quarterback then found Connor Hilaman open in the middle of the field for an 18-yard score. Deasey found his way into the end zone on the two-point play, making it 35-20 as the teams headed to the locker room.
During the game, Green completed 23 of his 37 passes for 398 yards. Nine of those throws went to Hubley, accounting for 181 of the yards.
The offenses dominated in the first half, but both teams’ defenses showed some fight in the third quarter. On Octorara’s first offensive series, Oxford defensive tackle Brandon Liberato sacked Gooden for the third time and then Hubley dropped Cooper for a loss. Octorara was forced to punt.
Later in the third quarter, Octorara capitalized on an Oxford turnover, driving 65 yards on 10 plays. Gooden picked up 23 yards on one carry and then concluded the drive by spinning and twisting his way into the end zone from 16 yards out.
Again, Oxford came right back. Green found Hubley for 18 yards and Mosley for 5 more. Two plays later Green threw a perfect deep ball to Hubley, hitting the receiver in stride as he raced 61 yards into the end zone with 46 seconds left in the third. Green also went to Hubley on the two-point conversion, cutting Octorara's lead to 42-28.
Oxford head coach Mike Pietlock made a gutsy decision by calling for an onside kick. The move paid off when the ball bounced off an Octorara player's hands and was recovered by Robert Civitella, a sophomore special teams player. The Hornets had the ball on the 30 of Octorara. It took the team two plays and about 16 seconds to reach the end zone—another Green to Hubley collaboration, from 20 yards out this time. Octorara still held the lead, 42-34, but Oxford held the momentum as the game moved to the fourth quarter. The crowd had been quieted earlier, but as the home team's comeback gained strength excitement was building and building.
Oxford's defense forced Octorara to punt early in the fourth quarter, giving Green and the offense a chance to tie the score. On third-and-long, Green looked for Hubley again, but this time an Octorara managed to tip the ball—and cornerback Dann Ruger swooped in to make a diving interception to stop Oxford's drive.
Octorara continued to rely on the running of Gooden and Cooper to move the chains and take valuable time off the clock. They moved inside the 20-yard line of Oxford, but the drive stalled at fourth-and-two from the 17. They went for it on fourth down, but Cooper was tackled by a group of Hornets before he could pick up enough ground to move the chains.
It was Oxford's ball with 2:32 to play. They were starting at their 15-yard line. Green connected with Connor Hilaman for 9 yards, and then dove forward for two yards on a quarterback-keeper that moved the chains. Oxford took the short passes that Octorara's defense was giving them: Hilaman for 9 more yards, then 5 yards, then Hubley for 6 yards and Hubley again for 6 more yards. A 15-yarder to Mosley moved the ball to the 32.
Oxford added a run by Deasey into the mix, and the senior running back, who gained 95 yards on the ground on the night, moved the chains with a 12-yard carry to the 20. Two plays later, Green threw a screen pass to Deasey who followed the blockers up front and knifed his way into the end zone with 21 seconds left in the game.
Oxford decided to run the ball on the two-point try, and Octorara's defense made the game-saving play, forcing Deasey to run wide and stopping him before he could get the blocking necessary to reach the end zone.
Oxford attempted another onside kick, but this time Octorara covered the ball to secure the win, 42-40. If anything, this contest exceeded last year's clash between the two teams—a game Oxford won in overtime, 41-34.
The Hornets, now 1-4 on the season, take on Bayard Rustin on Friday night, while Octorara hosts Sun Valley.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email