Oxford 23, Kennett 22
● By Steven Hoffman
As soon as the football cleared the uprights, kicker Ryan Hannum was swarmed by his Hornet teammates as they celebrated a touchdown and the extra point that gave Oxford a 23-22 lead over Kennett. According to the game clock, victory was still 31 seconds away, but in the moment Oxford’s players were content to soak up the raucous cheers from the home crowd for a job well done. Tight end Pat Kinsella lifted Hannum and carried him toward the sideline, where the players’ emotions ranged between ecstatic and jubilant. Every person wearing a maroon and white jersey had played a part in helping Oxford reach this moment in this season.
There was still work to be done—there was the matter of those 31 seconds, and quarterback Jake Dilcher and the Kennett offense had already scored 16 fourth quarter points, so Oxford’s defense still needed to go out and make another stop, but in a way this battle had already been won. In this game of momentum, the pendulum had swung back in Oxford’s favor, and that’s where it was going to stay.
Kennett’s offense, starting at the 20, attempted to make one more long march down the field. Dilcher’s first two pass attempts fell incomplete, and the situation grew desperate as the seconds ticked away. On back-to-back plays, Dilcher completed short passes that were then lateralled to other players in an attempt to move the ball down the field. But a penalty against Kennett left them with 70 yards to go over the game’s final 1.4 seconds. Dilcher lofted one final pass and when the ball fell incomplete, Oxford’s job was finished for the evening.
After watching his team surrender a 16-6 lead in the fourth quarter and then respond to the challenge by putting together a game-winning drive, Oxford head coach Mike Means couldn’t have been prouder.
“This game was huge for the program,” Means said.
Oxford has lost so many close games this year—one by one point, another by two points, and another by three points—that it might have been understandable if the players hung their heads after Kennett seized the momentum and took the lead with four minutes to play. Instead of hanging their heads, the Oxford players showed their resilience and determination to win the game.
“You could just feel it on our sideline,” Means said. “Our kids believed. They didn’t get down on themselves. We expected to win the game. Every kid on the sideline was [excited].”
At different points in the game, each team seemed destined to walk away with a victory.
Kennett took the game’s opening kickoff and marched efficiently down the field on a 65-yard drive that was highlighted by an 18-yard run by Connor Hyzny and several nice runs by Dilcher. The tandem combined for more than 125 rushing yards in the first half alone. Dilcher capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run. A bad snap on the extra point left the score at 6-0.
It looked like Oxford was going to answer right back as the Hornets’ offense moved down the field. Running back Tim Davis had an 18-yard gain that moved the ball into Kennett territory. A pass play from quarterback Chandler England to Kinsella also covered 16 yards as Oxford moved inside the ten-yard line. On the next play, England rolled into the end zone unimpeded, but the referees did not signal a touchdown. Instead, they informed both teams that a whistle had been blown inadvertently mid-play. After a long conference, Oxford was denied the touchdown and the ball was placed back at the nine-yard line. Two plays later, running back Brandon Holz carried the ball into the end zone, but the play was nullified by an illegal formation penalty on Oxford. Three plays after that, Kennett’s defense stopped Oxford at the one-yard line, taking over on downs.
With Kennett’s offense pinned back against its own goal line, the Hornets’ defense turned up the pressure. Three plays after taking over at the one-yard line, Kennett was attempting to punt from its own end zone, a daunting task that was made more difficult by the light rain that had been falling for most of the evening. Kennett couldn’t get the punt off and the ball was loose in the end zone where Brandon DeShields recovered the ball for an Oxford touchdown. Hannum booted the extra point to give the Hornets the 7-6 lead with 3:19 left in the first quarter.
England led the offense on an 85-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. DeShields picked up 38 yards on a nice catch-and-run. Davis picked up two yards on a fourth down play that extended the drive. England lofted a pass toward Kinsella along the right sideline that was nearly intercepted by Dilcher, but the Oxford receiver managed to come down with the ball inside the ten-yard line. Two plays later, Davis plowed into the end zone, making it 14-6.
Meanwhile, Oxford’s defense was controlling the game. On Kennett’s next offensive series, Mykie Brown stopped Dilcher five yards behind the line of scrimmage on first down. The next two plays resulted in incompletions, and Kennett was once again punting away the ball. There was a bad snap and as players from both teams scrambled for the ball as it rolled into the end zone. The ruling on the field was that Oxford had a safety, increasing the Hornets’ lead to 16-6. Oxford was also getting the ball as a result of the safety.
The Hornets’ offense would put together another good drive, moving deep into Kennett territory, but once again the Kennett defense was up to the challenge and kept the score at 16-6.
The score would remain at 16-6 until Kennett’s offense came to life early in the fourth quarter. On several plays, Dilcher demonstrated an amazing ability to elude tacklers, scramble around, and find a receiver down the field. Perhaps his best play came on a fourth-and-nine pass from the 15-yard line of Oxford. Dilcher rolled left, dodged defenders, avoided a sack by Oxford defensive lineman Mike Weber, continued to run around, and then fired a pass to Dominic D’Angelo for a touchdown. Kennett converted the two-point play when Dilcher connected with Myles Robinson, making it 16-14 with 10:50 left to play.
The momentum continued to swing in Kennett’s favor as the defense turned in a strong series. Defensive end Kerry Tomasetti was all over the place, disrupting Oxford’s running game. Cornerback Sebastian Hughes made a nice play to get his hand in the way of a pass by England, forcing the Hornets into a fourth-and-long situation. Oxford would have to punt.
Dilcher continued his strong play, completing a 15-yard pass to Tomasetti along the right sideline after avoiding Oxford’s hard-charging defense. Another scramble by Dilcher moved the chains on the drive. Hyzny capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown with 4:34 left to play. Kennett once again successfully converted the two-point play, giving the team its first lead since the first quarter at 22-16.
Oxford went three-and-out on its next offensive series, but so did Kennett. That set the stage for Oxford to get the ball back with 1:08 left to play.
England completed four passes, including three to Brown, during the 68-yard game-winning drive. The ten-yard touchdown pass that England and Brown connected on came after Brown made a nice cut back near the goal line. The defender slipped and Brown was open in the corner of the end zone with 31 seconds left to play. They needed the extra point to reclaim the lead.
An eternity seemed to pass between the time Oxford scored the touchdown and the time the extra point could be attempted. Kennett was hit with two penalties and also called a timeout. Finally, the ball was snapped and Hannum boomed the extra point through the uprights, giving Oxford the 23-22 lead. The Oxford defense went back out on the field and closed out the victory.
Hannum, the hero of the day, said that the extra point was the biggest kick he has ever made. He admitted to being a little nervous before the kick, but he was confident that his blockers would give him the time he needed to make the kick.
Means said that he was also very confident that Hannum would make the kick. “He’s a hard-nosed player,” the coach said. “He’s a soccer player—he scored three goals last week. If we get protections for him and wind is not a factor, he’s going to make the kick.”
Means was very complimentary of the Kennett team, lauding Dilcher for his uncanny ability to make plays out of nothing.
“He can really extend plays,” Means said. “Once he scrambles, they really do a great job of making plays.”
Means also said that Tomasetti is an impact player on both sides of the ball.
The victory improved Oxford’s record to 2-7, while Kennett’s record now stands at 3-6. After working so hard only to lose so many close games this season, Means said that it was good to see his team emerge victorious in a close one.
“These kids deserve to be on this side of one of these,” he said. “Winning like this could mean more for the program than a blowout.”
Kennett will host Great Valley at 7 p.m. on Friday night to close out the season. The Hornets, meanwhile, will look to win its second game in a row when they travel to Octorara on Friday night.