September 26, 2009 10:09:00 PM
OXFORD -- A balanced offensive attack led by junior quarterback Zak Thrasher and a defensive unit that delivered big stops when necessary Friday night propelled the New Hope High School football team to a 21-11 victory against Oxford in its Class 5A, Region 1 opener at the University of Mississippi''s Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The game was played at Ole Miss because Oxford High''s Bobby Holcomb Field was too wet to play on.
Thrasher took advantage of the switch by going was 12-for-17 for 182 yards and a touchdown to help the Trojans improve to 4-0 and 1-0 in region play.
Oxford (1-4) lost its fourth consecutive game after beating Grenada in its season opener.
The victory had some twists and turns. New Hope made some unfortunate miscues in the first half that kept Oxford close.
The Chargers recorded a safety on the Trojans'' first series after the officials determined Thrasher intentionally threw the ball away in the end zone to avoid a sack.
New Hope allowed another safety later in the first half when the center snapped the ball over Thrasher''s head into the end zone.
"We made a lot of mistakes. Kids going the wrong way, running the wrong route. Those are things that can be corrected," New Hope High coach Michael Bradley said. "We were very fortunate to get a win. We''re 1-0 in the division. We''ll take it and we''ve got to get ready to play next week."
New Hope also fell victim to a trick play that resulted in Oxford''s lone touchdown.
Two plays after receiving the ball after the second safety in the second quarter, Charger quarterback Guy Cameron Billups found Stefun Gill for a 45-yard touchdown pass. Gill was wide open on the play because he looked like he was leaving the field only to stop right next to the Charger coaches on the sideline where he stayed for a second before Billups threw him the ball. Uncovered, Gill ran down the sideline for the touchdown to give the Chargers an 11-7 lead with 5 minutes, 4 seconds to play in the quarter.
"They got a lot of early breaks and we helped them," Bradley said. "They had a good game plan and they''re very well coached. We did some really dumb things, but we were able to overcome them. We snapped the ball over the quarterback''s head and then they run the old sleeper play on us over there on the sideline and we were asleep. They dialed it up and it was the perfect call. Give them credit."
Fortunately for the large contingent of New Hope fans who traveled north for the game, the Trojans didn''t go to sleep for good.
The Trojans responded on their ensuing offensive possession by driving 65 yards on 13 plays for a 6-yard touchdown pass from Thrasher to tight end Lawrence Brown. Thrasher executed the drive to perfection, mixing in short passes and runs that allowed the Trojans to move without calling a timeout.
Thrasher was 4-for-5 for 26 yards on the drive. He also rushed two times for 16 yards.
"Zak has grown up tons in the last year," Bradley said. "He''s a very heady player. He''s always thinking ahead. He controls our offense, he controls what we''re doing, he controls the tempo. It just makes it all the difference in the world in what we''re doing.
"That (touchdown) was a huge momentum shift for us going into halftime. The touchdown we got right after the half was also big."
Brown''s touchdown and the second of three extra points from Tanner Ryals put the Trojans ahead 14-11 at halftime, while a touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter put the Trojans ahead 21-11.
Thrasher and tailbacks Terrance Dentry and Johnny Beamon keyed an 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive that Eddie Preston capped with an 8-yard run. The Trojans converted two third downs on the drive, including an 18-yard throw from Thrasher to Preston.
New Hope''s defense took over following its final score, as it denied Oxford three times after it moved inside the red zone. New Hope forced a fumble with the Chargers at its 7-yard-line and held on a critical fourth-down play when Billups tried to hit a receiver in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
Oxford''s last real scoring chance came with 5:50 remaining when it moved to New Hope''s 13. On second down, Seth Stillman recovered a fumble by running back Ray Mitchell.
"I can''t say enough about our defense," Bradley said. "Our defensive coaches, coach (Jacob) Owen and coach (Dale) Hardin, did an outstanding job of having a good game plan for their tendencies sheet. Our guys did a great job of preparing for them and our kids executed. I don''t know if it was as good of a performance as we''ve had on defense this year, but it was the gutsiest. The kids played with a lot of guts tonight. We had the blocked punt there at the 5 and we stopped them. We had a very gutty performance by our defense, and I just can''t be prouder of them."