PLYMOUTH, Mass. -- The late and legendary Darrell Royal used to say, "You dance with the one who brung ya."
And maybe that's the best explanation for why Plymouth South coach Scott Fry drew up a wild backyard play in the final ticks of the game, with the Panthers' shot at a first-ever Atlantic Coast League title on the line, to his workhorse running back who had been bottled up the whole night.
This, despite not only the fact that Dylan Oxsen had been kept in check for most of the evening, but the Panthers hadn't even practiced this play in some three or four weeks.
But somehow, some way, they pulled it off to perfection. Bobby Moss ran a short hitch up the left slot, caught the pass from quarterback Jason Lamb, turned and lateraled the ball to Oxsen, who had slipped out of the backfield. The junior then raced the final 50 yards down the sideline for a 62-yard hook and ladder play, with eight seconds left, for a 13-12 win over Nauset that clinches a first-ever playoff berth and league title for the Panthers.
The win puts South at 7-3 overall but a perfect 5-0 in the league, ahead of one-loss Nauset (9-1, 4-1) and Dennis-Yarmouth (5-4, 4-1). Even if they were to lose to cross-town rival Plymouth North on Thanksgiving, the Panthers would still be in the Division 2A playoffs as ACL champ, by virtue of head-to-head wins over Nauset and D-Y.
"I honestly thought the game was over, I thought we were done," said Oxsen, who came into tonight's game leading the state in rushing touchdowns (28). "But we pulled it off."
Said Moss, "I was surprised he made that call", adding with a laugh, "I'm not surprised I caught the ball, though...I winged it, I had to get him the ball."
Asked what prompted him to call for such a gamble at that moment, Fry offered up arguably the most oversimplified statement of the year: "Honestly, I was just trying to put the ball in Oxsen's hands, out in space."
Pretty unorthodox way to put a kid in space, no?
"Yeah, it is, and a lot of things have to go right for it to work," Fry said. "We threw it into the boundary, where it wasn't really supposed to be thrown into the boundary. It has to be caught and obviously lateraled perfect, it was just really well-timed."
Not to mention, the Panthers rarely throw the ball out of their run-heavy pistol scheme. Prior to the throw, Lamb had completed just two of five passes for 10 yards, both bubble screens to the flats. On the play before the winning touchdown, Oxsen lined up as a split end and Lamb went to him deep down the right sideline on a go route, only to watch Frank DeStefano jump in front and nearly pick the ball off.
All of South's efforts negated what was a terrific final drive for the Warriors, who went ahead 12-7 with 40 seconds left on a one-yard dive up the middle by Connor Martin. On the point after, running back Jimmy Sullivan rolled to his left on a fake field goal, but threw incomplete.
In the second quarter, Sullivan came hobbling off the field with a sprained ankle, and pnly played sparingly the rest of the way. With the de facto quarterback in the Warriors' quarterback-less single-wing offense sidelined, running back Colby Frodel (26 carries, 137 yards, TD) took the reigns, keeping the chains moving behind a series of power sweeps to the outside. He gave the Warriors the initial lead of the game on a one-yard dive, before the Panthers responded with Oxsen's 29th touchdown of the season late in the first half.
But at long last, after a 1-3 start, the Panthers are one of the South region's hottest teams, putting the exclamation point on their building momentum tonight before a fevered capacity home crowd.
"It's incredible," Fry said. "I was lucky enough to win one in high school, play in college...You know what it is, it's not so much for me, I'm so happy for the school, for the alumni of Plymouth South. You see the kids coming down that we used to coach here, it's a win for the whole program and the whole school, not just for this football team."
Jet Life: As expected, Oxsen was keyed heavily in this game. For the most part Nauset's Dakota Girard -- a 6-foor-2, 245-pound tackle headed to Brown next fall -- clogged up the inside gaps, allowing Braden Wilson and Jamie Law to free themselves up and set the edge. With so much attention on Oxsen, that made the roles of Lamb and flanker Ethan McCullough all the more important, for the most part they delivered.
The Panthers found a lot of success running a "sweep read", with McCullough motioning across the formation from either slot -- similar to a typical "jet sweep" play found in the team's Wing-T playbook a seaosn ago. When Lamb (nine carries, 64 yards) read the defensive end and pulled the ball, he sometimes found alleys open up down the hash marks and made the most of it.
As the Warriors creeped up on Oxsen, the Panthers added another dimension to the play, with Oxsen taking a counter step then shooting up the middle for a third option. The play, known as "counter criss-cross", found similar success as the defense tried to adjust.
"He is the leader of our team," Fry said of Lamb. "All he cares about is winning football games. That's all he cares about. He doesn't care about publicity, who gets what, all he wants to do is win."
Shout out to the scout: Much has been made of once-dormant Nauset turning into a powerhouse by coach Keith Kenyon's installation of an offense as ancient as the passenger pigeon. When you think of the single wing, you think of Pop Warner, Knute Rockne, Jim Thorpe, the Carlisle Indians and the Four Horsemen. You don't exactly think modern.
Its uniqueness is what makes Nauset's offense so difficult for many teams to simulate in practice, but the Panthers seemed to have a well-planned strategy for it. Give credit to the scout team for that, which none of the South players could heap enough praise upon following the game.
"We needed a very good practice out of them, so we can master scouting the single wing," Oxsen said. "And they stepped up their game and gave us a great look when we were playing defense."
Said Moss, "Everybody was running hard, nobody took plays off. Everyone was doing what they had to do."
PLYMOUTH SOUTH 13, NAUSET 12
NAU (9-1) 0 6 0 6 --- 12
PLS (7-3) 0 7 0 6 --- 13
N - Colby Frodel 1 run (kick failed) 7:16
P - Dylan Oxsen 4 run (Katy Buker kick) 2:43
N - Connor Martin 1 run (pass failed) :40
P - Bobby Moss 10 pass from Jason Lamb, Oxsen 52 run (rush failed) :08