by Jerit Roser // GeauxPreps.com Contributor
Oak Grove unloaded a dominant, record-setting exclamation point on its 2023 season Thursday with a championship-record 401 rushing yards and a 62-36 defeat of Haynesville.
The Division-IV Non-Select title game capped an overall playoff run the challenge of which coach Ryan Gregory took just five seconds into his postgame press conference to note.
“I’m just awfully proud of this community and this program,” he said, providing some further context for their fourth title in five years. “When the brackets came out, we thought we had the toughest draw you could ask. This team has now beat Haynesville twice, Mangham twice, went to Kentwood and won, so what a resilient group they are. It’s kind of what we build our program on, and they’re an awfully good show of what we try to do. So I’m awfully proud.”
Oak Grove jumped on the Golden Tornado, whose 17 state championships lead all Louisiana non-select schools, early and took advantage of a couple critical Haynesville miscues to start blowing the game open by the end of the first quarter.
For as impressive as the Tigers’ performance was Thursday — and it was impressive — the program’s current run of consistency is even more impressive.
Oak Grove’s 26-point victory in the final and 34-point victory in the teams’ Week 6 meeting marked the only losses this season for a Haynesville team that beat its other 12 opponents by an average margin of 27.6 points.
The latest rout also marked the largest margin of victory in an LHSAA state championship game since Madison Prep beat Union Parish, 50-0, in Class 3A in 2020 — just two days after Oak Grove’s 33-7 title win over Grand Lake in that year’s Class 1A game.
A rushing attack of 401 yards on 54 carries, for an average of 7.4 yards per attempt, served as one testament to the Tigers’ strength Thursday.
Traditionally run-heavy Haynesville’s attempts to pass the football early and relatively often — with 20 throws in all — served as another.
“Throwing the ball’s not really what we do,” coach David Franklin said. “But when you’re playing somebody that plays everybody one-way and we’re playing everybody two-ways, and they’re hurting us with their offense and we can’t sub, and things like that are happening, last year when we ended the season, we decided we’re gonna have to do something different. And we’ve been preparing for that all year, but it’s still kinda hard to do. And they’ve got 10 guys in the box, so you’ve gotta do something. You can’t run the ball against that, not when they’re bigger than you.”
That level of dominance has been standard on the Tigers’ big-picture run, with their four championship games having been won by an average of 28 points.
The closest of the contests came in a 17-0 shutout last December of defending champion Homer.
Only one other school has a chance to keep pace, St. Thomas More in Division-II Select, with a fourth title in the past five years.
An eighth championship ties Oak Grove for the ninth-most among Louisiana high school football programs.
And, in a bit of a theme Thursday among the four Division-IV finalists, Oak Grove will return several key pieces next season, including quarterback Jackson Bradley, running back Jay Freeman and defensive back TaMarques Pritchard.
Bradley, the Louisiana Tech commit, earned Outstanding Player honors with 211 rushing yards and three touchdowns and another 27 yards passing.
Freeman rushed 23 times for 173 yards and four scores, and Pritchard returned a kickoff 88 yard to the end zone and intercepted a pass.
“It’s a special place,” Gregory said. “And I’m gonna keep telling you how good our kids are, because they are. We’ve been able to do a lot of good things, and the fact of the matter is it’s a lot easier when you’ve got guys like this. And I’m telling you I’m not sad that they’re all three juniors — they’ll all three be back next year.”