HS Football: Oak Ridge Claims the 2023 Edition of the Battle of the Oaks
THE WOODLANDS, TX -- The Grand Oaks Grizzlies (1-6) fell despite a late comeback effort to the Oak Ridge War Eagles (4-2) in the season’s Battle of the Oaks.
The Grizzlies were without their stalwart quarterback, Grant Smith, who sat at 4th in district 13-6A in terms of passing. Junior Zachary Rollins took his place with the task of overcoming the vaunted Oak Ridge defense to start the game.
Grand Oaks’ offense was immediately tested with their opening offensive drive. The defensive backfield for Oak Ridge forced breakups on passing attempts from Rollins, ending the drive in a three-and-out.
Adam Trosclair and the Oak Ridge offense made the task taller with a 38-yard completion into the endzone that got the War Eagles on the board first.
Following the Oak Ridge score, both defenses began forcing stops. The Grizzlies’ defensive line fought their way into the War Eagles' backfield while Oak Ridge continued to disrupt passes on designed rollouts for Rollins.
The most promising drive of the first quarter for Grand Oaks saw a lofted toss from Rollins end up in the hands of Preston Cloud, who set the team up inside the 10-yard line. However, a tackle for loss from War Eagle lineman Joseph Jonah-Ajonye forced a field goal that ended the quarter with the score 7-3 in favor of Oak Ridge.
With both defenses stepping up, points came at a premium. Neither team succeeded on their first drives of the second quarter due to back-to-back three-and-outs. It took Oak Ridge until four minutes left in the quarter to sustain a drive into Grand Oaks territory.
A pass completion on a fourth down set up the War Eagles inside of Grand Oaks’ red zone. After the conversion, runningback Frankie Arthur took a handoff to the left side of the line and broke his way in for Oak Ridge’s second score of the night.
In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, Oak Ridge Head Coach Mark Schmid broke down the importance of getting on the board in the first half.
“Getting a score first is a big momentum builder,” said Schmid. “They were packing the box and making it hard to run, so we had to make sure that we tried to put the ball down the field.”
Grand Oaks’ struggles continued on offense as the team could not post points on their next two drives. The last drive ended in a fumble that, fortunately for the Grizzlies, resulted in zero points before the end of the first half.
The War Eagles continued to assert their control with the second half beginning. The defense continued to make stops, and the offense tacked on another score. A 55-yard passing touchdown made the score 21-3, with the Grizzlies needing a response.
Zachary Rollins answered the call with a passing touchdown to Roan Brawley, who left three minutes on the clock in the third quarter. The Grand Oaks defense now took on the responsibility of stopping the War Eagle offense with the deficit at 21-9 after the missed extra point.
After the defense forced another stop against Oak Ridge, the Grizzlies offense introduced a handful of unique formations to catch the defenders off guard. The use of the wildcat formation and a push from the linemen forced Tristan Frazier into the endzone to create a one-possession game.
The onus fell on Oak Ridge to sustain a drive if they hoped to keep the lead intact. Stingy defense from the Grizzlies prevented the War Eagles from scoring on back-to-back drives deep into the fourth quarter, opening the window for the comeback.
With less than five minutes left, Oak Ridge linebacker Justin Williams dropped back into coverage and picked an incoming pass out of the air. His trip to the endzone was undisputed as the War Eagles notched a score that pushed the lead back to double digits.
“We did not lose our heads,” said Schmid on the high-pressure situations. “We kept playing football. Defensively, we made some big plays and did an awesome job.”
Ayden Dorman was brought in for the Grizzlies as a more present passing threat against the War Eagle defense. Despite the power of his arm, he failed to connect with his receivers downfield, forcing a punt back to Oak Ridge.
Time benefited the War Eagles as the game drew closer to an end, allowing them to run the ball while simultaneously closing the door on the Grand Oaks comeback. The final whistle sounded with the final score 28-16.
With wins becoming harder to get as the district march continues, the battle changes to fixing issues and maintaining cohesion for the War Eagles.
“We gotta clean some things up,” said Schmid. “Offensive like can do some things better, and there will be an emphasis on cleaning up miscommunication on some routes between the quarterback and the wideouts.”
The Grizzlies will lick their wounds and look for a rebound on the road against the New Caney Eagles, while the War Eagles hope to keep up the momentum against Cleveland in a Thursday night matchup.