The Oak Grove Panthers must have felt like they were staring into a mirror.
Hosting a Lift for Life Academy team from St. Louis Saturday that played the same offense and defense, the Panthers experienced facing a version of themselves.
Oak Grove made sure there was no reflection in the final score, though, as it dominated on defense and pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 29-0 win.
“Both teams have studied that (shotgun double wing) offensive system quite a bit and it helped us on defense,” Oak Grove coach Pat Richard said. “We didn’t do it as much today because they practice against it. The second half we got under center and pounded the ball, it just took a while to get going. Eventually, we just wore them out.”
Senior running back Tyler Hunter accounted for most of the Panthers’ offense, rushing for 96 yards and two touchdowns and hauling in a 20-yard TD pass from Jaxon Althaus.
“Tyler had a good game,” Richard said. “When Kenton (Wilhoit) went down with an injury he had to rise up and play. He made run after run. Kenton missed five games last year and Tyler filled in and ran for about 130 yards a game. Tyler’s a great running back, we just have to get him the ball more.”
Oak Grove’s defense marked the story of the game. The Panthers held the Hawks (2-1) to 18 yards of offense and forced seven three-and-outs.
“In practice, we play against the same offense, so it was easy reads for me, and that helped,” linebacker Clay Griffin said. “It feels good to play that well on defense. I have real confidence in our defense. On offense, we need to put some more work in and we’ll be better.”
The Panthers (2-1) turned the tide of the game with a blocked punt by Rylee Mills deep in Lift for Life territory just before halftime.
Two plays later, Althaus found a wide open Hunter in the end zone.
“The blocked punt was big,” Hunter said. “It’s a momentum swing. You come out after that, it’s different. Going into halftime with the lead, that’s huge.”
Richard noted the Oak Grove coaching staff saw something in the Hawks’ punting formation that led them to rush 10 players.
“When we saw them lining up short on the punt, it kind of lends itself to us going after it,” he said.
Hunter reached the end zone on runs of 21 and 18 yards in the fourth to cap off Oak Grove scoring drives, and the Panthers’ final touchdown came when Griffin recovered a fumble in the end zone.
“We came in at halftime, (Richard) coached us up and we came out and had a great second half,” Hunter said. “And the defense shut them out. The defense was great. The (zero) on the scoreboard shows you that.”
Though Oak Grove ended with only 241 yards of offense, with its defense yielding less than 1 yard a play, its offense could afford to take more than a half to get going.
“(Lift for Life) scored 54 the first week, 46 the second week and we knew they had a lot of speed and good athletes and we knew we’d have to contain that. And we did,” Richard said. “Our defensive line played really well, dominated up front and our linebackers had a good game running around.”