Oak Grove repays Delhi Charter School

Being the hunter is easy, but being the hunted is a whole different ballgame as the Delhi Charter Gators found out thanks to the Oak Grove Tigers 41-20 victory in the district 4-1A opener for both teams.

Last year, the Gators welcomed the Tigers to District 4-1A by handing them a 33-14 loss on their home field enroute to a perfect district record and repeat title. However, for the first time in school history, Delhi Charter entered a big district game as the favorite with its 5-0 record, #3 ranking in Class 1A, and at home against a storied program like Oak Grove. The big question was how would they handle being the hunted instead of the hunter….that question was answered on the opening kickoff.

DCS (5-1 and 0-1 in district) won the toss and prepared to take the opening kickoff and score as it had done in four of its first five games, but Senior Ryan Hebert muffed the sky kick and it was recovered on the 39-yard line by Josh Simms. Three plays later, Deoncus Nelson cashed in with a 10-yard run and Kendrick Jackson added the kick for a 7-0 lead only 68 ticks into the game. The Gators quickly answered on the next drive going 75 yards in five plays with Randy Julian, who finished the night with 111 yards on 20 carries, capping the drive with a 29 yard run. The Tigers blocked the kick to preserve the lead at 7-6.

Coming into the game, OG was averaging five fumbles a game and that trend continued with three of the Tigers six on the night coming on that drive. First Jackson fumbled, but fullback Jacob Pippin pulled it out of the air for a three yard gain. Then on consecutive snaps, Pepmiller fumbled with DCS’ Gabe Robinson recovering the second. However, in a harbinger of things to come, the Gators were not able to take advantage of the miscue and were forced to punt.

One of the biggest plays of the night occurred early in the second quarter on first and ten from the DCS 37 as Nelson took the handoff from Pepmiller and was hit hard by Gator defensive end Riccie Gray causing another fumble. Pepmiller alertly picked up the ball on the bounce and scrambled 40 yards untouched for the touchdown and a 14-6 lead. The Gators appeared to be gaining momentum midway through the quarter when senior tackle Corey Reese forced another Nelson fumble at midfield.

But three plays later, quarterback Stuart Scurria made an ill-advised option pitch to Julian and the ball got away from him. Tiger defensive back Charles Howard scooped it up and rambled 60 yards for the score and a 20-6 lead.

Scurria, who had 106 yards on 14 carries, atoned for the earlier mistake, by leading DCS back down the field and scoring on a five yard run.

He added the conversion run as well to close the gap to 20-14 at halftime.

“Considering they scored two touchdowns on fumble returns, I thought we were okay only being down 20-14,” DCS Head Coach Brett Raley said after the game. “I thought we just needed to eliminate the mistakes and slow them down in the second half.”

Oak Grove (3-3 and 1-0 in district play) got the second half kickoff and quickly spoiled Raley’s plan. Pepmiller, who finished the night with 17 carries for 157 yards, scored the first of his three TDs in the second half five plays into the quarter on a 21-yard run. Delhi Charter closed the gap on the next possession when Julian bolted to the endzone on a 29-yard run and closed the gap to 26-20 with a little over seven minutes left in the quarter.

The Gators appeared to have momentum on their side for the first time when Trent Cox mishandled the ensuing kickoff giving the DCS’ offense the ball back at midfield. Once again, the home team was unable to take advantage and forced to punt. Heading into the final period, OG was still only ahead by six points.

However, DCS didn’t appear to have the same swagger it had going into the fourth quarter of last year’s game as Scurria was battling leg cramps, Hebert was nursing a sore shoulder and linebacker Zac Bembenick went out with a leg injury.

Through the first five weeks, DCS’ starters have only played three and a half quarter of every game and with several players going both ways, it appeared to take its toll.

Pepmiller took over the final eight minutes of the game darting through the Gator defense on touchdown runs of 37 and 28 yards to seal the win. Pepmiller was also three of three passing for 73 yards in the game and Jackson added 90 rushing yards on 10 carries.

“I thought our effort was good and we played hard,” Raley said. “We just made too many mistakes and didn’t take advantage of theirs. We still have a lot of football to play this year and we’re exactly where we were last year at 5-1. We just might not win the district title this year without a lot of help.”

When you’re used to being the hunter and having one objective in mind, it’s pretty easy to play, because you aren’t expected to come home with a trophy or a win every time out. However, when you’re the one being hunted, you’ve got to be aware of everything around you and use all of your abilities every day ... because it’s a matter of life or death.

Delhi Charter will have to put this game behind them because things won’t get any easier as the Gators travel across town to take on the Delhi Bears.

Delhi comes into the game at 2-3 and 0-1 in district play following a 28-0 loss to the Mangham Dragons.

DCS won last year’s contest 35-6, but the Bears appear to be playing much better this year.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Bear Stadium.

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