• John Macon Gillespie

The Crosstown Classic: Through Rowdy’s Eyes

Two great football programs, one great community

I was born and raised in Oxford, Mississippi. I have lived here all my life and it never gets old. Safe to say, I love my hometown.

If you’ve followed what I do for SES Mississippi, you obviously know that I love Mississippi high school football more than just about everything. I love great high school football rivalries, however, there is one particular game every year that I always circle first on my calendar.

Since 1972, The Oxford Chargers and Lafayette Commodores have been battling for town supremacy on the gridiron. It is an event unlike any other in Lafayette County. Some of the local populists have been going to this game since the first game played between these two schools. It is a game where if you show up at least one hour early, you likely will not get a seat in the stands. Why would you be surprised to see a sold-out crowd? Lafayette County’s finest high school football players are on same field at the same time, battling and representing their great school districts.

It is also a rivalry that sometimes gets a common misconception. No, these two schools do not hate each other. Why would they? They go to work with each other, go to the same churches, eat at the same restaurants, and cheer on the Ole Miss Rebels. All this doesn’t mean that the rivalry isn’t competitive, however.

These two schools have been perineal playoff football teams throughout their history. Both schools boast proud traditions not only on the gridiron, but in the classroom and other activities. Just being an Lafayette County native comes with a lot of pride in many aspects. They want what they have to be the best. The same applies to their schools. They obviously want to win and be the state champion at season’s end, but that doesn’t cop out being champions of the city and county.

Lafayette holds a slim 25-20-2 edge in the series and boasts three state championships in their trophy case. Oxford has yet to win a gold ball, but currently has the University Sporting Goods Crosstown Classic trophy in the OSD athletic complex with the 41-17 victory over the Commodores last September.

I went to the games when I was little and still go to the games as a college student. I grew up around this rivalry. I, as well as my two older brothers, are OHS alumni. We did, however, grow up in Commodore territory in a small community called Burgess. We also have family connections with the school. My cousin, Marshall, recently graduated from LHS and his little brother, Michael is about to be a senior there also. My great grandfather, James Robert Redding Jr., was one of the main reasons the Lafayette County School system began. He also served on the school’s board when the schools opened in 1966. His name can be found on a plaque inside the high school building.

I love both schools and what they represent. They are both filled with hard working individuals that give it 110 percent in everything they do. They represent the county and state the right way.

There have been many memorable games in the rivalry’s 47 year history. Many occurred either before I was born or when I was too young to remember. There are a few games that stand out to me from the past decade. Here are five games from 2007 to now that stand out to me.

2009: Lafayette 31, Oxford 21

“The Back Breaker”

The Chargers got smacked around by Charleston the week before. After recalling that and the 32-7 shellacking that Lafayette put on them the year before, I was just wondering if Oxford could even keep it close, to be honest.

Lafayette went into this game 2-0 with wins against Cleveland and Trezevant (TN). Oxford was 1-1, and were riding a three game losing streak to the Commodores. That incredible 2012 class from Lafayette that featured Jeremy Liggins, Demarkus Dennis, Mario Toles, and D.Q. Reynolds were sophomores at the time. Oxford went into the 2009 season without a pretty decent senior squad the year before, but had a excellent junior class to work with. My older brother, Jonathan, was a junior at the time, playing linebacker for the Chargers.

I didn’t know if Oxford could actually pull it off, but after the first quarter, I was really optimistic. Oxford came out of the gates rolling. Ray Mitchell scored on the ground and drew first blood in the contest after a beautifully executed drive. I was thinking “Wow, maybe they can do this after all.”

Right after that, a bad snap went high over the head of Jeremy Liggins, and Oxford’s Tyler Shaw fell on the ball in the end zone for another Charger TD. After a nightmare start for the Commodores, the score was 14-0 in what seemed like in a blink on an eye. Right after that, I went down to the concession stand and talked with a few school friends. As soon as I did that, the Commodore machine got rolling, big time.

The second quarter was owned by Lafayette. As they were making their way back into the game. When they tied the game after a couple big plays, I went back to my seat. Despite the game being tied up, it didn’t set in, until they broke Oxford’s back for good right before halftime. On the last play of the second half, Liggins threw a corner route to Cedric Dukes for a 33 yard score at the horn.

To this day, I have never heard a louder roar from Lafayette’s fans as soon as that play happened. I remember like it was yesterday watching Lafayette’s players with a pop in their step pumping the crowd up on their way to the field house. And I remember watching Oxford’s players walking slowly off the field, most with their heads down.

The game was pretty much Lafayette’s to lose after that. Oxford didn’t have many answers. The Commodores did enough to shut the door in the second half. Lafayette won their fourth Crosstown Classic in a row with a 31-21 victory.

Two of Jeremy Liggins’ three pass attempts were for touchdowns. Lafayette feasted off of big plays that night. Their pass rush was dominant too. Oxford absolutely could not run the ball. Oxford quarterback Guy Billups did have a good game, passing for 285 yards. Lafayette had a hard time shutting down receiver Deante Smith.

Lafayette went on to a spectacular 14-2 season and made their first ever state championship game. Unfortunately, they ran into Dylan Farve and that potent offense from St. Stanislaus in the 4A title game. Lafayette lost 32-16, but they knew that they had what they needed to make a few more title runs.

Meanwhile, Oxford finished the year 6-6 in their first season in 5A and managed to make the playoffs after failing to make it the year before. Like Lafayette, Oxford knew they had probably their best core in a while going into 2010.

2010: Lafayette 21, Oxford 14

“The Turnover and Drive”

Man, this was a classic, exciting game to watch.

Both teams had probably the most talent they’ve had in a while. For Lafayette, expectations were through the roof going into the season. They had the majority of their core back on both sides of the ball. They were coming off of two dominant wins over Cleveland and Trezevant (TN) just like the year before. They also were riding a four game winning streak against their crosstown rival. Safe to say, they were a force to be reckoned with.

Oxford was no slouch, however. They entered the year with high expectations and were 2-0 going into this game. They were even considered by some to be a dark horse 5A contender. They had Guy Billups at QB, Deshaun McNeal at receiver, a couple All-States on the O-Line, and a solid group of linebackers.

I remember my brother (who was a senior on the team at the time) saying: “This could be the year we beat those guys.”

One of the main things I remember heading into Bobby Holcomb Field (OHS) was not just the enormous crowd (which I expected), but seeing all the “Vote Yes” signs everywhere. The campaign was intended to advertise the bond that would eventually lead to having a new Oxford High School building. The school would be built and opened in 2014. They advertised that at nausea before the game. The atmosphere was absolutely electric at kickoff.

The Chargers opened the game with an onside kick and failed to recover. So Lafayette had prime field position right off the bat. Oxford’s sideline and fans were loud and rowdy until Jeremy Liggins shut them up a few plays into the game. Liggins kept the ball and raced 50 yards down the sideline to give the Commodores an early 7-0 lead. My jaw dropped low when I saw that, three Charger defenders had the angle on Liggins, and he just dusted all of them as a 245 pounder. I’ve never seen a guy that big move that fast. It was just unbelievable.

That early jab didn’t seem to phase the Chargers that much as they fought back into the game. Oxford made a lot of big plays, but they were unable to capitalize most of the time. Deshaun McNeal made some big catches like he had in the previous two games. This was McNeal’s first season of varsity ball, he was a senior at the time. It wasn’t just him, Stan Ivy and Larry Pettis too. Lafayette moved the ball well at times, but were forced to settle for Tyler Jackson field goals in the second and third quarters. In the third quarter, Oxford had a 14-13 lead. That lead stood until midway through the fourth quarter.

Oxford was in control. They were about 10 yards away from extending their lead. Billups was looking to pass and was sacked by Lafayette’s Keeyon Tyson, causing Billups to lose the football. The ball was recovered by Lafayette and the Dores were back in business. They were able to cap off a long drive with a Demarkus Dennis score and a Liggins two point conversion late in the game. The clock ran out on Oxford, and the Commodores won their fifth in a row over the Chargers. This was the only time I’ve ever seen my older brother cry after a loss, it was that devastating. I cried as a result of seeing him cry.

That game was the closest game the Commodores would have the rest of the way as they cruised their way back to Jackson for a chance at a state title. Lafayette crushed North Pike 31-6 to win the school’s first state title in football. Lafayette also became the first team in Mississippi high school football history to finish 16-0.

The Chargers also had a great season. They fell to the eventual 5A state champion West Point in the second round of postseason play. Despite that, the Chargers finished 9-4 and had perhaps their best season since going 13-1 in 2005.

2012: Oxford 19, Lafayette 0

“One Soggy Upset”

I remember that the buzz and hype surrounding this game was unreal. I mean, it is always a game that the locals and media outlets look forward to year long, but there was more riding on this game.

This game was set to be played on TV. Fox Sports South broadcasted this game as a part of C Spire’s Bright Lights series, which put the spotlight on rivalry games in Mississippi. I remember that my grandparents were actually watching this game in Colorado.

The Commodores went into this game boasting the state’s and one of the nation’s longest winning streaks at the time with 34 games. Lafayette also won 48 of it’s last 50 games and were the two time defending state champions in class 4A. Let that sink in. They did lose a ton of talent from the 2012 class, but they still had a handful of it from the past two seasons. Leading the charge for the Dores was D.K. Buford, Brandon Mack, Alec Michael, and Colby Terrell.

Oxford went into 2012 coming off of their first losing season since 2000 by finishing 5-6. The Chargers returned nearly every starter from the year before with the exception of record setting running back Mont Dean. Expectations were unsurprisingly high. The talk of the offseason for the Chargers was quarterback Parker Adamson and solid defense. The Chargers started off the year 2-0 with nail-biting wins over Grenada and Charleston. They were set for their biggest test, facing their crosstown rival that was considered to be a juggernaut. Oh yeah, and the Chargers had lost six straight to Lafayette.

There was one problem that each team had to face: mother nature. Remnants of Hurricane Isaac lingered in the area during the week. Oxford was a balanced offense for the most part, Lafayette was pretty much all run (as usual). On paper and based on conditions, advantage Lafayette right? Oxford didn’t care, they absolutely came to play and end the streak.

The Chargers did a very good job of moving the ball to open the game despite not being able to knock a field goal through. Still, that let everyone know early that Oxford came to play. The name of the game for the Chargers during the week was to stop the run at all cost. They succeed in this endeavor. D.K. Buford had to run for his life in the back field just to get across the line of scrimmage. Zone reads were read beautifully by the Charger defense. This happened all night long.

Despite not being able to convert a score to start the game, the Chargers did end up on the scoreboard first with a one yard plunge by Jarius Barnes late in the first quarter. A field goal by Cody Mills made the score 10-0. It may have been a 10 point game, but it seemed as if it was more than that by the way Oxford moved the ball and the defensive play. Head coach Johnny Hill even mentioned that during a halftime interview. Oxford’s defense held Lafayette to seven yards at the half.

Oxford started the third quarter with a beautiful surprise onside kick and recovered. However, the Chargers were again unable to capitalize. Another opportunity to extend the lead was lost when Oxford recovered a fumble and took the ball inside the Commodore five yard line. The Chargers looked to punch another one yard score in, by the ball was punched out and Lafayette recovered at the one. Oxford’s defense once again continued their dominance in the third. Lafayette had their best opportunity to score early in the fourth quarter. Their only trip to Oxford’s side of the field ended with an interception by Oxford’s Leanthony Rogers.

Lafayette’s last chance to make something happen resulted in a pick six by Mark Pegues which provided the exclamation point by the Chargers. The horn sounded, and six game losing skid and a 34 game winning streak was history.

The jubilation from a fan base and a team was something that I had never seen before from Oxford. Remember when Ole Miss defeated Alabama in 2014? That is what it felt like from a fan’s perspective. Oxford had not beaten Lafayette since 2005. To put that into perspective, I was in the first grade back then. I was in the eighth grade when this game happened.

I remember watching the Chargers hoist a gold ball and thinking to myself: “What is that? Oxford hasn’t won a state championship yet. What is this trophy that they are raising up?” Turns out that it was the University Sporting Goods Crosstown Classic trophy that I have never heard of until then. Yes, it had been that long since Oxford had beaten Lafayette that I didn’t even know that a trophy even existed for this rivalry.

In the weeks that followed, the Oxford Charger football team was the talk of the school. Even the kids that didn’t even care about football were talking about that game.

The Chargers would go on to win double digit games for the first time since 2005 and finish 11-2. They fell to eventual state champion Starkville in the second round of the 5A playoffs. The Dores would still have a great season at 10-3, but their season ended earlier than the three years that followed.

2014: Oxford 41, Lafayette 7

“The Back Breaker II”

The final score of this game is a little misleading. Had it not been for one particular play to end the first half, it might have been a different game.

After winning in Commodore territory for the first time in 12 years in 2013, the Chargers were looking to win three in a row over their crosstown rival. Oxford entered the 2014 season with a chip on their shoulder after falling in heartbreaking fashion in the 5A title game. They entered the game at 2-1, with the one loss coming in the Little Egg Bowl to Starkville.

The Commodores had a rare slow start to the season. They started 0-2 before defeating DeSoto Central 3-0 the week before this game. Star running back Tyrell Price was also questionable going into this game after an injury. Oxford may have been favored, but games aren’t played on paper.

The game started as a defensive slugfest. The only points in the first quarter came from a field goal by Oxford’s Liam Cooper. Lafayette ran the ball and used other runners to make up for Price with the likes of Tavon Joiner and Tay Tay Owens. Oxford’s offensive success mainly came from the air. Jack Abraham’s three yard screen pass to D.K. Metcalf made the score 10-0 Oxford early in the second quarter.

Since defeating Oxford 40-12 in 2011, it had been frustrating times for Lafayette’s offense in this crosstown rivalry. They had been getting smacked around by Oxford’s defense in 2012 and 2013. They were defeated 19-0 in 2012 and 30-0 in 2013, eight straight quarters without scoring a point. Midway through the second quarter of this game, the Dores finally broke through. Tavon Joiner busted through the line of scrimmage and raced 58 yards for a touchdown. Momentum was now sharply on Lafayette’s sidelines. Oxford fans were nervous as all get out.

Oxford drove down the field to try and get points before the half in a two minute drill. The Chargers were able to get a completion off in Lafayette territory, but the clock was ticking under 15 seconds left. The Chargers had to hurry up fast to get a play off. All receivers went deep. Jack Abraham threw up a desperation heave to Kyree White while getting tackled. Lafayette’s Allan Mathis was in position to knock the ball away, being in front of White. Mathis jumped too early and White came down with the ball. White then dragged Mathis to the end zone for a last second touchdown. Oxford’s sideline erupted, and Lafayette’s sideline was filled with jaws dropped and surrender cobras. The score was 17-7 going into the half.

Almost the exact same thing happened five years earlier. Jeremy Liggins threw a touchdown pass right before the half in 2009 and killed whatever hope Oxford had of winning. The Chargers returned the favor in 2014. At that point, I felt as if the game was over. I knew Oxford wouldn’t be denied from that point on.

On one of Oxford’s first drives to begin the third quarter, Abraham again hit White for a touchdown pass. This time, it was a slant that went 57 yards to the house. The Commodores never recovered. They didn’t look the same after that. The Chargers added two more touchdowns by the way of Kenzie Phillips and Devin Rockette and got another field goal from Cooper. The Chargers would go on to win their third in a row over the Dores, winning 41-7.

The Chargers would go to win 10 straight games after that and make it back to the 5A state title game. They would again have their hearts broken again, this time, at the hands of Laurel by the final of 29-26. Meanwhile, Lafayette would once again make the playoffs in 4A, but would be bounced by Cleveland.

2016: Lafayette 23, Oxford 3

“Run Quarles Run”

This game was the first win for Lafayette in 2016, and boy was it a big one.

It was the first Crosstown Classic to be played with two new head coaches. Chris Cutcliffe, a former assistant, was tabbed to lead the Chargers after Johnny Hill retired. Eric Robertson left Lafayette to be defensive coordinator for his former boss in Anthony Hart at Madison Central. Michael Fair was lured away from Senatobia to lead the Commodores.

Both teams entered the 2016 season without a fantastic senior class from the year before. In the games before this one, The Chargers were doing pretty good. After a 1-1 start, the Chargers pulled off a massive road upset against Madison Central and former Lafayette head coach Anthony Hart.

The Commodores, on the other hand, were struggling. They started 0-2 with losses to Horn Lake and Grenada. Lafayette was trying to find their footing offensively in those two games. They found their catalyst in this one. They were ready to end the four game losing skid to the boys across US-278.

I remember that Oxford attempted a rare trick play on the first play. The flea-flicker failed, and the Chargers would later get stuffed on fourth down at midfield. The game was a defensive slugfest for the majority of the first half. Gray Jenkins put a 38-yard field goal through to give the Chargers the first score of the game in the second quarter.

Lafayette’s first score of the game came on a safety midway through the second quarter. Oxford had a 3-2 lead. That’s when Jamarcus Quarles took over.

Shortly before halftime, Lafayette was making one final surge down the field. Excellent blocking paved the way for Quarles to rush for about a 35 yard score. I remember that this was one of the few times when covering a game that I had to actually look up the roster for a team and figure out who a player was. His name was Jamarcus Quarles. I haven’t forgotten since. The score was 9-3 Lafayette at the half.

That play gave all momentum to the Dores. Quarles could not be stopped. His 76 yard touchdown in the third quarter all but sealed the deal. Oxford simply could not tackle him. Oxford defensive coordinator Matt McCrory, who ironically is now the DC at Lafayette, was probably seeing No. 17 in his dreams that night. Quarles finished the game with two TDs and 272 yards on 32 carries. He ended the season with 2,182 yards and 19 TDs.

It wasn’t just Quarles doing the dominating. The Commodore defense was lights out. They did not allow a single touchdown to their Crosstown rival. This was the first time since 2004 that the Chargers did not score a touchdown.

Will Ard’s pass to Brandon Turnage put the final nail in the coffin. For the first time since 2011, the Dores brought the University Sporting Good’s Crosstown Classic to the south side of the highway. They won 23-3. It was Michael Fair’s first win at Lafayette.

Lafayette became one of the state’s hottest teams after that, winning 13 in a row and playing in December. The Dores upended Poplarville 27-12 to win the school’s third state championship.

Keep this in mind, the last three times Lafayette defeated Oxford, they won state championships.

**Photo Courtesy of Cailyn Brock, Flashback

#Oxford #Lafayette #JaredRedding

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