A strong second half propels Oxford to a win in season opener
By Steven Hoffman
The Oxford Hornets opened the 2018 football season with a 30-7 win over West Chester Henderson on Friday night as quarterback Brett Kochmansky ran for two touchdowns and threw for another. Oxford’s experienced defense, which features eight returning starters, also turned in a stellar effort.
On Oxford’s first possession of the game, Kochmansky engineered an eight-play drive that covered 64 yards and resulted in the game’s first score. The drive illustrated how this year’s run-first offense will be markedly different from the pass-first offense that enabled the Hornets to reach the playoffs for the first time in nearly 25 years in 2017. Kochmansky completed all three of his passes during the drive, but it was his ability to hold the ball and force the defense to respect his running ability that created opportunities. It certainly gave Henderson’s defense something to worry about when Kochmansky broke free for a 50-yard touchdown run that gave Oxford the early lead. Running back Tim Faber made it an 8-0 lead when he ran the ball into the end zone for a two-point conversion.
Later in the first quarter, the Hornets moved into Henderson territory when Kochmansky connected with wide receiver Brandon McWilliams on a nice slant pass that gained 25 yards. McWilliams raced past the defenders and came very close to going all the way on the play, but Henderson cornerback Mark Roccia managed to trip him up in the open field. That play was made more significant when Roccia’s teammate, Nate Mulhern, made a diving interception to end the drive just a few plays later.
For most of the rest of the first half, Oxford couldn’t execute well offensively. Henderson cut the lead to 8-7 following an Oxford fumble deep in Henderson territory. It took the Warriors three plays—a run by quarterback Pat Esemplare and two carries by Jay Pierce—to move the ball 15 yards for a touchdown. Pierce scored from five yards out, making it 8-7.
At halftime, Oxford head coach Mike Means encouraged his team to start cleaning up some of the mistakes—but he also reminded them that, despite the first half miscues, they were still leading the game.
Oxford started the third quarter clearly playing with more confidence. Faber took the third quarter kickoff and returned it to the 35, setting Oxford up with good field position. Three plays later, Faber took a toss from Kochmansky, found running room, and raced down the right sideline for a 54-yard score. The point-after attempt was no good, but Oxford held a 14-7 lead—and more importantly, the team had shrugged off a sluggish second quarter.
With the defense doing its job, the Oxford offense really found its footing as the third quarter progressed. The Hornets made it 17-7 with 4:55 left in the third quarter when kicker Tyler Brooks booted a 22-yard field goal.
Then, just two plays later, the Hornets got the ball back when standout safety Nathan Ferro picked off a pass at the 43. Kochmansky tossed a slant pass to wide receiver Anthony Woody to move the ball 20 yards. Faber moved the chains with an eight-yard gain. Then Kochmansky connected with running back Jaxson Chew for a five-yard touchdown. The score made it 23-7.
Oxford’s defense was now taking control of the game. The Hornets surrendered just 31 yards in the second half, and only allowed points when Henderson’s offense was working with a short field following a turnover.
Oxford sealed the victory when Kochmansky scored from two yards out midway through the fourth quarter, making it 30-7.
After his team turned in a dominating performance in the second half, Means said that he thought the team’s commitment to a rigorous conditioning program really helped, especially in the second half. Oxford won the battle in the trenches, and that was reflected in the final score.
“I thought our offensive line took over the game in the second half,” Means said. “I’m proud of our big boys up front.”
Means was also impressed by the effort of McWilliams, who hauled in seven catches in the game, and helped extend some plays.
Oxford’s offense is going to evolve as the season goes on. The team has a lot of players who can contribute on that side of the ball. This was Kochmansky’s first game as a starting quarterback and he was very productive.
Means said that Kochmansky’s ability to run the ball gives Oxford’s offense a much different look than it had in the last few seasons. Now, the run is opening up things for the pass, while the pass was previously used to open up the run.
“I thought he really settled into the game,” Means said. “He’s going to get better and better as the season goes on. He’s a great leader, and that’s the number-one thing that I look for at that position.”
Means is hopeful that Oxford will clean up some of the mistakes, but overall it was a good way to start the season.
“We need to play two halves of football,” Means said. “We have eight starters back on defense, and we’re going to rely on them. I thought they did an incredible job today. They really flew to the ball.”
Next, Oxford will travel to Interboro to play at 7 p.m. on Friday night.