It’s been a year of close losses in big games, but on Friday night, Cedar Creek recorded a historic win as the Cougars defeated 5th ranked and two-time defending state champion Oak Grove 13-9 on the road.
The win snapped Oak Grove’s four-game winning streak and is the first by Cedar Creek (4-3) over the Tigers since 1993.
“I am so proud of these kids,” said head coach Matt Middleton. “It’s huge. This will really help us with our power points. Now we need to finish strong and win next week. These kids and this staff and this school deserves it.”
It took a late defensive stand by the Cougars to secure the victory. Oak Grove had a chance to take the lead in the final two minutes but a fourth down pass was incomplete and the Cougars knelt on the football to run out the final 60 seconds.
“Our defense has played great all season,” said Middleton. “To hold this team to only nine points, well really seven points because we gave up the safety, says a lot about the way we are playing. Coach Ware and these guys are unwavering. It was a phenomenal performance on the defensive side.”
Oak Grove took an early 7-0 lead on a touchdown pass by quarterback Jackson Bradley on a fourth-down-and-16 play late in the first quarter.
With the football in the shadow of its own end zone, Cedar Creek came up with the play of the night as Ladd Thompson recorded a one-handed catch and scampered 82 yards to the Oak Grove 5-yard line. The catch came one play after Thompson had dropped a long pass.
“Ladd made some big plays,” said Middleton.
One play later, AJ Thomas took a pitch and covered the final five yards for a touchdown. Davis Long’s extra point tied the game at 7-7.
The two teams remained knotted in a defense-dominated ball game. The Creek had an opportunity in the third quarter to take the lead but Long’s 33-yard field goal attempt was short as the two teams entered the final quarter tied.
Middleton and Thompson hooked up once again for the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter. On a second down play from the Creek 49-yard line, Middleton found Thompson deep down the field for a 51-yard scoring strike with 11:04 to play in the game. Long’s extra point was no good, but the Cougars led 13-7.
“That was one of the things I was most excited about for our offense,” said Middleton. “We were facing press man zero, and we made two huge throws and catches (by Caden and Ladd) that couldn’t have come at a bigger time.”
Following a good punt by Oak Grove that pinned the Cougars on their own five-yard line, the Oak Grove defense made a play, forcing a fumble that was recovered in the endzone by the Cougars for a safety with 6:19 to play. Creek’s lead was cut to 13-9.
After a free kick by the Cougars, Oak Grove started deep in its own end zone. The Tigers methodically marched into Creek territory, converting a couple of third and fourth downs. However, with the ball on the Creek 31-yard line, the Cougars defense got the stop on an incomplete pass with 1:10 to play and the Cougars ran out the clock.
The win was even sweeter for Cedar Creek following heartbreaking losses to St. Fredericks, Ouachita Christian and Jonesboro-Hodge.
“We’ve heard it,” said Middleton. “We can’t win the big one. But this was a big one for us. The kids have been so so close. Coach Ware and I were talking earlier … we are literally a first down and three points away from being 7-0. We are excited. We have been working really hard for this and the kids deserve it.”
The win helps the Cougars bid for the postseason.
“I love these kids, this staff, this school,” said Middleton. “This is a monumental win for our program. I usually tell them we can take 24 hours to celebrate a win, but we are taking 48 (hours) on this one.”
Creek totaled 233 yards in the game with only 64 yards coming on the ground. Caden Middleton completed 6-of-10 passes for 169 yards and the one TD while Thompson caught two passes for 133 yards and one score.
Creek’s defense held Oak Grove to just 243 yards as the Tigers were penalized 11 times for 110 yards. The nine points are the fewest Oak Grove has scored this season. The Tigers entered the game averaging over 35 points per game, including over 47 points a contest in the last four games.
Cedar Creek is now 3-0 on the road this year.
Photo: Tim Smith
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