T.J. Jackson knew what was coming.
Oak Grove led Odessa 18-14 with less than a minute left. But the Bulldogs had the football, facing fourth-and-2 on their own 29-yard line. The Oak Grove junior defensive back said he knew Odessa quarterback Josey Meierarend would throw to his side of the field, hoping to get a first down and keep the Bulldogs’ hopes of a game-winning drive alive. And Jackson knew who Meierarend’s target would be – sophomore wide receiver Eliyh D’Obron.
Sure enough, Meierarend threw Jackson’s way.
But Jackson had D’Obron covered. The pass was incomplete, allowing the Panthers to run out the remaining 39.7 seconds to seal a four-point win Friday night. And with the homecoming and Missouri River Valley Conference West Division win, Oak Grove (3-2, 1-0 MRVC West) claimed the I-70 Shootout trophy for a second straight year.
“He tried to run a vert (vertical route) on me, and he wasn’t looking back at the ball,” Jackson said. “But then, I saw the quarterback throw the ball and I lost my man I tried to get to the ball before he ever decided to turn around and come and get it He wasn’t paying attention. Really, I just did my part.”
Jackson’s defensive stand helped cap a seesaw affair that started with Odessa threatening to take the lead on the opening possession. Starting at their own 31, the Bulldogs drove to the Oak Grove 7 before the Panthers recovered a fumble at the Oak Grove 12. The turnover set up an 11-play, 88-yard drive, capped by Peyton Clouse’s 15-yard TD run with 2:44 left in the first quarter.
With 1:46 left in the second quarter, Odessa (4-1, 1-1) staged a six-play, 37-yard drive, capped by Meierarend’s 6-yard TD pass to Bryley Ray and Matthew Jobe’s extra-point kick with 37.6 seconds to take a 7-6 lead.
Clouse, who finished with 113 yards on 19 carries, scored on a 1-yard TD run to give Oak Grove a 12-7 lead with 8:31 left in the third quarter. Meirerarend answered with an 11-yard TD pass to D’Obron and Jobe booted the point after to make it 14-12 Odessa with 10:46 left in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers reclaimed the lead with a 14-play, 89-yard drive, capped by Tyler Hunter’s 1-yard plunge with 1:41 remaining. Hunter considered the game-winning TD run a second chance to crack the goal line.
“The play before, I came up short by about a yard,” said the senior running back, who had run for 3 yards the play before. “Coach (Pat Richard) told me he was going to give me the ball again. And I just gave it all I had, dove for the end zone.”
Then came Jackson’s decisive pass defense against D’Obron.
By holding off their archrivals, the young Panthers turned a corner in their season, according to Richard.
“We’ve said, at some point, it’s all going to click and we’re going to figure out how to play,” he said. “And I think tonight we started to get that. We started to understand how much fun this game can be when you play as hard as we played tonight.”