● By Steven Hoffman
Eric Impriano was not going to be denied.
As he raced down the field toward the end zone, the football gripped firmly in his arms, the Oxford tight end dodged and darted past defenders, evaded every would-be tackler who got close, and, in the end, fought his way across the goal line for a touchdown. There was one minute and five seconds left on the clock, and Bishop Shanahan’s lead over Oxford, which once seemed insurmountable, was now just seven points.
Oxford still had a chance to win, and Impriano’s determined dash down the field for a 53-yard touchdown was a perfect illustration of why that was the case. When they fell behind early, the Hornets refused to hang their heads and play out the rest of the game resigned to defeat. Instead, with a large Homecoming crowd watching, the Oxford football team put its Hornet Pride on full display. When Bishop Shanahan took commanding leads—28-0 at one point in the second quarter and then 35-7—Oxford battled back instead of backing down.
For most of the night, an Oxford comeback seemed improbable. Bishop Shanahan’s high-powered offense, led by quarterback Nick Skulski, scored on its first five possessions. Skulski turned in a dazzling performance, connecting with wide receiver Brendan Dearing on a nice 49-yard pass play and, later, a 61-yard touchdown that was even more impressive. On one play in the second quarter, Skulski used his mobility to avoid a sack and lofted a 16-yard touchdown pass to John Kozinski. Early in the third quarter, facing a third-and-one, Skulski saw running room straight up the middle and raced 90 yards for a touchdown that will end up on his highlight reel.
Oxford turned in some big plays, too. Running back Tim Davis followed the good blocking up front and bolted through the heart of Bishop Shanahan’s defense on his way to a 68-yard touchdown run. It was Oxford's first score, and it came with about 5:30 left to play in the second quarter.
Immediately after Bishop Shanahan pushed its lead to 35-7, Oxford’s Brandon Holz took the ensuing kickoff inside the ten-yard line and ran it all the way back, cutting the lead to 35-14.
When Bishop Shanahan claimed a 42-14 lead early in the third quarter, it still didn’t seem like an Oxford comeback was in the offing. But then Oxford’s defense produced a turnover, giving the offense a short field to work with. Oxford marched 40 yards in the next seven plays, culminating with a three-yard touchdown run by Davis.
Davis scored his third touchdown of the game, this time from two yards out, to cut the lead to 42-28 with 3:18 left to play. Oxford quarterback Chandler England was settling into a nice rhythm in the second half with Pat Kinsella and Troy Brown as two of his favorite targets.
Oxford’s comeback continued when cornerback Brandon Deshields intercepted a pass to give the offense the ball at their own 35. England completed passes to Deshields and Brown to move the chains. That set the stage for the dramatic 53-yard touchdown to Impriano that cut the lead to 42-35.
The Hornets had long since used all three of their timeouts, so their hopes of tying the score hinged on one more big play—they needed to recover the onside kick. Otherwise, Bishop Shanahan could run one play, take a knee, and then let the clock run out. Bishop Shanahan’s special teams unit successfully fielded the onside kick, and a moment later they ran out the clock for the 42-35 win.
Oxford head coach Mike Means said that he’s not a big believer in “good” losses, but he said that he was very proud of how his team played during the comeback attempt. The team refused to give up, and sometimes a team can learn more about winning during a hard-fought loss.
“I’m definitely proud of my guys,” Means said. “They didn’t hang their heads when we fell behind. Everybody was invested in this game.”
The fact that Oxford scored 21 unanswered points against a Bishop Shanahan team that is now 6-1 shows that Oxford is capable of competing against anyone in the rugged Ches-Mont League. Means said that he hopes his young team has now cleared another hurdle after some difficult fourth quarter losses early in the season. Three of Oxford’s losses have come by a combined total of six points. With games against Great Valley, Kennett, and Octorara remaining, Means is optimistic that his team can deliver a strong finish to the 2016 season.
“We’re on the cusp of doing some special things,” Means said. “We’re light years ahead of where we were as a program.”