Those who have visited the campus of Oakland high school and the football field understand the type of facility it truly is. A masterpiece by Warner’s Athletic Construction, it is likely the best turf field in the state and one of the best in the Southeast. During it’s brief tenure, this field has seen some fantastic football. But if this turf could talk, what would it say about the two titanic tussles this season between the Patriots and the private schools?
First and foremost a tip of the hat goes to Oakland coach Kevin Creasy for scheduling these heavyweight fights. Often times schools look for wins in their non-region games. In order to defend their class 6A state title Creasy understands these games help prepare his Patriots for the challenges to come. The same is true for Lipscomb Academy and Christ Presbyterian Academy, who battled each other in the TSSAA Division II state title game last season.
“We wanted to come to play Oakland because they are the best and we want to see where we are at”, says Lipscomb coach Trent Dilfer. “Games like these are a lot of fun and its good for high school football.”
The battle with Lipscomb was the Rumble in the Jungle. Trailing 21-7 in the second half, it looked as if Oakland was in some deep water. Turnovers and a vastly talented opponent had put the Patriots on unfamiliar ground. Using a “rope-a-dope” type strategy, Creasy calmed his troops and orchestrated a character-building comeback. Three touchdowns and a gutsy two point conversion later, Oakland was in the lead 29-21. Refusing to go quietly, Lipscomb continued to test the Patriots, but time ran out as the Oakland defense made one last brilliant stand when the clock struck zero.
“We were shell-shocked at first because we are not used to things not going our way”, says Creasy. “I give our kids credit for stepping up to the challenge and rallying behind each other. This was a great test for us against a really good team. As coaches we knew we could sleep good at night by continuing to have faith in our kids and they responded in a big way.”
The second leg of the heavyweight challenge saw Christ Presbyterian Academy come to Murfreesboro for “the Thrilla in Manilla”. Led by head coach Ingle Martin, the Lions brought an unbeaten record to Ray Hughes Stadium as the defending TSSAA Division II state champs.
“We reached out to Oakland to try and make this game happen because we knew it would be good for both of us”, says Martin. “We have had some experience with coach Creasy in pre-season stuff when he was at Trousdale County and know what type of program he runs. These are the type games you look forward to.”
Big, strong, and fundamentally sound, CPA controlled the bout early. Running between the tackles with authority, the Lions roared mightily. Bending at times, the Oakland defense surrendered yards, but a late stand combined with a clutch offensive drive that netted a 41 yard field goal saw them down only 17-10 at the half. Having weathered those early haymakers, the Patriots were still standing.
The second half featured more of the same. Standing toe-to-toe, these two behemoths battled with the heart and determination that makes high school football fantastic. Oakland put up 10 straight points to take the lead, CPA answers with a touchdown to reclaim the scoreboard, Oakland drives for a touchdown inside the two minute mark of the fourth quarter to go up 27-24. Much like the historic battle between Frazier and Ali, this was a slugfest for the ages.
In fitting fashion for a game of this magnitude, things were not decided until the final play. Sitting inside the Oakland 3 yard line, Martin wanted to give his team a chance at victory in regulation. Having surrendered over 255 yards rushing, Oakland’s defense had been battered, but when the game was on the line, there was Patriot senior Korey Smith sacking Lion quarterback Cade Law for a loss
“For those that did not see this one you missed one heck of a football game”, says Creasy. “Our guys fought back and found a way against a great team. This was a total team effort and we really responded in the second half. It was a great statement for Oakland football.”
So, after two outstanding football games that will always be remembered by the participants and recanted for a long time by the on-lookers, if this turf could talk, what would it say? It likely says the same thing a veteran sports scribe is saying…”Thanks for letting me be a part of the magnificence of high school football”.