There are enough cliches to describe what went down at Oakland on Thursday night – it “lived up to its billing,” the game was “as advertised,” one “we’ll talk about for a long time,” and others.
The only thing missing was the gold ball – it had that kind of intensity to it.
With Ray Hughes Stadium’s stands packed to the gills, the Patriots and visiting Lipscomb Academy Mustangs put on a state championship-worthy show that came down to the final minute, with each team’s best players providing the fuel that fanned those competitive flames.
There was a lot of discussion about predictions leading up to the game and who folks thought might win – and a healthy amount of disrespect for the Mustangs’ capabilities judging from several folks’ score picks.
That talk had better be dead now. Lipscomb Academy proved a worthy adversary to Oakland and both teams – and high school football in general – are better off for it.
“It was a lot of fun,” Antonio Patterson said. “It was a dogfight. (Lipscomb Academy) was a heck of a team. We came out (in the second half), executed and came out with the win.”
When the possibility of the contest came about a couple of weeks earlier due to both teams’ opponents pulling out of their respective games, nearly everyone lobbied for the teams to play in Week 4. It didn’t work out then, but Week 6 became a great time to pull the trigger on one of the most highly-anticipated games that Middle Tennessee has seen in some time.
Oakland head coach Kevin Creasy said his players had campaigned to make this game happen and he obliged. At halftime, he challenged them to channel their energy into the resiliency they ultimately needed to mount a rally that resulted in the game’s final 22 points of that 29-21 victory.
“Everybody was so down in the dumps – you know how teenagers are,” Creasy said. “(Lipscomb Academy) scored late on just a completely awesome play, flukish, but also athletic at the same time. You go in (the locker room) and you’d think somebody had run over their dog or something. But we were like ‘guys, we’re so lucky it’s only 14-7 – it should be much worse.’”
And for all the offensive talent on showcase, the defenses ultimately made some of the defining plays of the night. Korey Smith’s strip-sack of Luther Richesson and subsequent fumble return gave the Patriots their first points of the night. Moments earlier, that same Oakland defense bowed up on fourth-and-goal, stonewalling the Mustangs at the 1-yard line to keep the deficit at seven points. That stop gave Antonio Patterson a reprieve after he fumbled the kickoff following Lipscomb Academy’s initial score.
“We like to say that we question them sometimes if they’re made out of the right stuff,” Creasy said. “We know everybody can be a good teammate and always can be a well-rounded human being when things are going your way. It was good for us to get hit in the mouth and get down on our field. Sometimes people think we can roll the ball out here and because we’re at home, we’re gonna win … For our guys to fight back, especially when things were going really, really bad for us, I think that speaks volumes for their character and how much they love their teammates.”
Alex Broome made his presence felt early. Jordan James took control late. The best players were the best players. Luther Richesson was as efficient as he has been all season, despite the fumble which was Lipscomb Academy’s first turnover of the year. But Richesson also made plays with his legs to keep drives alive, including on the final series, when his team needed first downs to halt the clock after they had exhausted all their timeouts earlier.
“He definitely made some plays with his feet,” Lipscomb Academy head coach Trent Dilfer said. “He made some incredible plays to keep drives alive with first downs. We used him more as a runner tonight, which was good.”
Then, Eric Taylor’s mad dash from the back side to get Broome to the ground on the game’s final play was the final act in a play more dramatic than a Broadway show.
And it was old-school. No television, no streaming. You wanted to see the game? You had to go see the game.
And if you saw the game, you’ll remember it for a long time.
“It was fun,” Creasy said. “We put a lot of hours in and the easy thing to do would have been to not play (this game), but our seniors really want to play. They’ve been robbed of some games over the last two years (due to COVID-19). So when they asked, I was like ‘I’m going to give you what you want, but you better be careful what you ask for, because (Lipscomb Academy’s) really good … I was really, really questioning my decisions there for a little bit.”
Barring something drastic, we’ll see both these teams in Chattanooga the first weekend of December. They won’t face each other, but both could come back with gold balls. If they do, they can look back at Thursday night as an important step in that journey.
And we can all look back and say the game was, indeed, as advertised.
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