OXON HILL – Fairmont Heights High School’s football squad narrowly maintained their undefeated record on Sept. 29 against Oxon Hill High School, preserving a 26-21 victory with a critical fourth down conversion on the game’s final possession.
The Hornets shut out the Clippers going into the third quarter and were up by as much as 20 points, but Oxon Hill climbed back into contention and was one defensive stop away from getting the ball back down by a single score.
After forcing Fairmont Heights (5-0) into a fourth-and-five situation deep in their own territory with around two minutes remaining, Oxon Hill (3-2) seemed on the verge of gaining possession down five with enough time for a game-winning drive.
The visiting Hornets chose to keep the offense on the field, and quarterback Anthony Craven connected with Jihad Wooten on a quick slant for a 25-yard completion, effectively ending the game.
Oxon Hill had exhausted its timeouts to get to that point and the final two minutes trickled away as Fairmont Heights ran into the line three times.
The fact that this game came down to a single play is hard to fathom given how Oxon Hill struggled on offense for most of the game, finishing with just 164 total yards.
A kickoff return followed from a punt return by Kyree Clark inside the Fairmont Heights 20-yard line set up a pair of short scores, then a long touchdown run by Kimon O’Sullivan pulled the Clippers within five points midway through the fourth quarter.
Having allowed touchdowns on three consecutive possessions, Fairmont Heights Head Coach Rodney Williams decided he would keep the ball in Craven’s hands for the conversion instead of punting.
“We were struggling on defense and special teams,” Williams said. “We were gonna leave it on the line right there. I didn’t want to give the ball back to their offense. We called black, which is our hot read, we threw the slant, and it worked out for us.”
Craven completed just four of his 12 passes for 77 yards, with Fairmont Heights moving the ball primarily on the ground. Jamal Lone led the Hornets with 92 rushing yards on 23 carries, scoring three times from inside the five-yard line. Fairmont Heights rushed for 259 yards as a team, racking up a staggering 55 rush attempts.
Lone’s third touchdown came in the fourth quarter after the Fairmont Heights’ lead had been trimmed to 20-14, a fourth-and-goal plunge through a helpless Oxon Hill defensive line. The Hornets piled up 18 first downs and ran more than twice as many offensive plays as Oxon Hill, largely due to grinding out yards with the running game.
“It’s been that way all season,” Williams said of his rushing attack. “Some people knew, and some people didn’t. They find out once they go up against us.”
Oxon Hill opened the contest with a promising drive highlighted by a 44-yard catch by Jaden Byrd, but that drive stalled and the Clippers would not threaten for the rest of the half.
Just when it looked like the game would get away from the home squad, Clark took a kickoff to the Fairmont Heights eight-yard line and quarterback Jy’ir Ingram immediately scored on a run up the middle. Following a stop by the Oxon Hill defense where they sacked Craven twice to force Fairmont Heights to punt from their own end zone, Clark brought the kick to the 16-yard line and Ingram would punch it in a few plays later.
“He’s been doing that all year,” said Oxon Hill Head Coach Craig Jefferies. “That gave us a spark, gave us some energy to do what we had to do to get us back in the game.”
The Clippers had a chance to stop Fairmont Heights before the fateful fourth down play on that final drive, as Craven took a snap on third-and-fourteen and threw an uncatchable pass out of bounds, but a horse collar penalty extended the drive. Flags hindered Oxon Hill the entire game, repeatedly progressing Fairmont Heights possessions or backing up its own offense and ruining promising drives.
The Clippers ended with 11 penalties for 123 yards, not including a few that were declined, and none more costly than the horse collar down the stretch.
“That really did (change the game),” Jefferies said. “We had them where we wanted ‘em.”
The fourth down conversion to seal the win was not only special in its execution or the major risk taken by Williams, but for the sheer unexpectedness of the play call.
Craven had not completed a pass since the last drive of the second quarter and had thrown only three times in the second half. Williams did not even plan to go for it initially, lining up his offense in an attempt to draw Oxon Hill offsides. But following a timeout, the coach called on his senior quarterback, and he delivered.
“I knew my team had confidence in me,” Craven said. “I knew I had to make a big throw, he was the main target on the slant, I had to lead him, and he made a big play.”