COLUMN: CLINTON — Oxford’s historic run through the MHSAA Class 5A playoffs wasn’t supposed to happen. The Chargers, the team up north that every other program forgets about, couldn’t win the title, could they? Unified and hungry throughout, the Chargers overcame another obstacle and proved a lot of naysayers wrong in the process by defeating Pearl 2-0 to win their first soccer title Saturday night at Clinton High’s Arrow Field.
Just how significant was the victory for the OHS boys soccer program? Well, it came four days after the Chargers defeated last year’s 5A champions in Starkville. It came against Pearl, the team that has always knocked them out the Chargers in the playoffs and has won eight state titles. And it came a year after this amazing group of seniors had to endure a tremendous amount of adversity, such as losing standout Lucian DuChaine to a season-ending injury and seeing one of their teammates — Hayden Stewart — battle for his life as he dealt with a brain tumor.
No, Saturday’s victory wasn’t just another state title win for a school that has run out of space in the gym to hang all of its championship banners; it was truly a milestone and the perfect way for eight tight-knit seniors to end their career.
“I couldn’t even begin to explain how much it means to me. You get to play high school sports and most people will never get the chance to play in a state championship and then win it. Just to be out here and be with all my good friends and win it is awesome,” senior goalie Henry Webb said. “The biggest motivation for us was we were never supposed to beat Starkville. We were basically playing against the entire state and that was one of our biggest motivations. All the practices, the morning practices from the summer until now, brought us together for one goal.”
Webb said he and his teammates drew inspiration by spending a lot of time with each other, while an article in the Biloxi Sun Herald late in the year kept the fire stoked.
“We’re always hanging out and talking. We have a group (text) message, all the senior guys. We’ll go have breakfast before school on game days just to talk it over. You couldn’t ask for a tighter group than we are. We’re all best friends. This is something we’ll remember forever,” Webb said. “One of the coaches, Pascagoula maybe? He said Starkville should cruise through the North Half and win state, cruise through Oxford and cruise through the north half and win state. That was a big motivator for us. They’re over here thinking Oxford is no one and we believe.”
Got to believe
Oxford coach Jamie Perkins definitely believed that his team could overcome the odds and win the title this year. Perkins, who has led the girls track program to three straight state titles, said beating Starkville and then Pearl to cap the season really sent a message to the rest of the state that OHS is for real.
“Lets just be honest, everybody was thinking Pearl was going to win it being the eight-time champs. And then we show up, play our butts off and here we are; what a great feeling,” Perkins said. “I’m very blessed. I’ve got some… those seniors you can’t say enough about my captains Baxter (Elliott) and (William) Mayo. All those seniors are a great group of kids. We’re a close knit group. I had an accident last year and was in a wheel chair coaching on the sideline, had one of the seniors last year who lost his sister and all this stuff brought us closer together as a team.
“And then we spent so much time in the offseason working, training, just going through the things to make us a better, more competitive program,” Perkins added. “Oxford had never been here before, never. I was trying to help bring tradition here and look where we’re at. I’m excited about the future of Oxford soccer. Now that we’ve won one, maybe people will start talking about Oxford soccer — Oxford may not be that bad after all.”
OHS athletics director Johnny Hill is responsible for bringing in Perkins four seasons ago. His hire triggered four straight division titles and then this year’s North Half and overall state championships. Hill not only thought it was great to defeat Pearl for the title, but looked forward to seeing how things shape up in the future.
“You can check the records but I don’t think we’ve ever beat Pearl before in soccer in the playoffs. I can’t remember beating them in soccer before and it’s awful great to do it tonight. We just out played them. We out hustled them and got after them and just looked super doing it. It wasn’t a fluke,” Hill said. “We’ve got a lot more kids interested. Jamie has done a great job with them and his assistant coaches did a super job. I think it’s great, I really do. I think it’s a tribute to these kids and these great fans. Our school board and (superintendent) Brian Harvey, everybody is just kind of working to get it done and it happened tonight.”
Webb and Perkins thought positively about the future of the program that features some very talented younger players.
“Anytime somebody wins state they’re automatically put on the map for next year. We have a lot of younger guys coming in and I think they’re going to be special in the years to come,” Webb said.
“Because of what happened tonight, all my younger kids can say, ‘hey, if we work hard, look at what the benefits are,’” Perkins added. “It’s going to be a great stepping stone. We’re so blessed at Oxford, so blessed to have this opportunity. I told my assistant (Mike Melton) if we play up to our potential I think we’ve got a chance because the kids want it. They have a fire in them and just won’t be denied. You can’t describe it. It’s just an awesome feeling, not only for the school, but for the community, the fans, Oxford in general. How awesome is it going to be to go home tonight and see it in the paper on Monday? It’s going to be nice. Everybody is going to be talking about this for weeks at Oxford.”
Indeed they will coach, indeed they will. (February 4, 2013, Page 1B)