The battle of O’Hara at Oak Grove was back and forth all Friday night.
But that all changed midway through the fourth quarter when O’Hara junior Austin Evans broke a few tackles on the right sideline and scampered for a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that tied the game up 24-24.
“Don’t look back …” Evans said he thought to himself, but quickly rephrased with a laugh.
“Well, I had to look back, but just run with all I could and didn’t give up.”
The O’Hara Celtics did not give up anymore after that either on way to a 31-24 victory.
Quarterback Michael Briggs led another late drive in the fourth quarter for the winning score. And again it was Evans. He shifted around for a 19 yard run for a touchdown.
O’Hara coach Jim DeMareawas quite pleased with his team’s effort down the stretch.
“We made some key catches,” he said. “We had some luck when the ball tipped off some players.”
The Celtics started off the game with a solid opening drive of that went 63 yards on 11 plays. It ended when senior Zach Drake kicked in a 22-yard field goal.
The Oak Grove Panthers countered with a two drives of their own, and eventually took the lead with a Jake Moore 14-yard run that made it 10-3.
And Oak Grove opened up a larger lead in the second half. The Panthers showed off their rushing attack and Jake Harrenstein scored from 1 yard out that put Oak Grove up 17-3.
But O’Hara did not go away.
Briggs found Zach Drake for an easy pitch and catch in the end zone that cut the lead to 17-9.
“We came out and had a good talk at halftime and made sure everything was going down and make sure our assignments were right,” Briggs said.
Briggs followed that up by leading a lengthy drive that ended with a touchdown and two-point conversion that tied the game 17-17.
Briggs finished the game 12 of 20 for 120 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also was the team’s leading rusher with 68 yards on eight carries.
Drake finished with four catches for 41 yards.
Other notables for the Celtics included junior Brock Hughes, whose tough running and receiving helped move the chains on several occasions.
The Panthers, though, mounted another long drive that ended with Harrenstein’s second touchdown of the night.
Harrenstein finished the game with six carries for 24 yards. Other notable rushers for Oak Grove included star tailback Aaron Graham, who finished with a game-high 129 yards.
“They made big plays, and they out played us, which doesn’t happen very often,” Oak Grove coach Pat Richard said. “There were some points in the game where I thought we were ready to roll and they were struggling and instead of finishing them off, we didn’t do it.”
Still with all the rushing yards piled up against the Celtics, they were able to come out victorious because of some crucial plays down the stretch.
“Our tradition like this against Oak Grove is to battle to the end, and we’re so blessed down the stretches,” DeMarea said.
The same was true for Evans, who realized that even though this game meant quite a bit, there’s a long season still to come.
“What we improved on so far from last year is finishing in the fourth quarter,” Evans said. “Just like we did with Richmond last week.”