Oxbridge Academy’s hustle and defensive muscle were too much for Melbourne Central Catholic in Friday night’s Class 3A regional championship game.
Gio Richardson threw for 166 yards and two touchdown passes, and the ThunderWolves’ defense dominated — again — in a 32-7 victory at William H. Pitt Stadium. With the win, Oxbridge earned its first berth in the state semifinals.
The ThunderWolves (9-1) will play Tallahassee-Florida State University next Friday in a final four matchup. The Hustlers, a state semifinalist last season, close the season at 8-4.
“This feels awesome,” Oxbridge coach Brendan Kent said. “There’s no other way to say it.”
Defense reigned early, as neither team was able to move the ball effectively.
Each team punted following their first two possessions, and the ThunderWolves didn’t pick up a first down until their third drive.
But that drive proved fruitful for Oxbridge, which kept the ball on the ground for all but one play and scored on Antavious Lane’s 6-yard run late in the first quarter. The extra point was blocked, leaving the ThunderWolves with the early 6-0 lead.
Oxbridge went back to the run on its next drive, and extended its lead to 12-0 following a James Meeks 1-yard plunge. Richardson’s 36-yard run was the key play on the drive, which also was helped along by a pass-interference penalty.
The ThunderWolves’ conversion attempt failed, and Melbourne Central Catholic followed with an 83-yard kickoff return by Zamari Walton to pull within 12-7 midway through the second quarter.
That was it for Hustlers’ points in the first half, as Oxbridge’s defense was relentless.
Melbourne Central Catholic had little success throwing the ball, and even less running it. The Hustlers were held to just three first downs in the half.
“We did a great job on defense,” Kent said. “We had a guy go down early at the safety position, where we’re thin at. We had to make an adjustment, and they did a great job of that.”
The ThunderWolves, meanwhile, found the end zone for the third time just before halftime, scoring on an 8-yard pass from Richardson to Meeks. The conversion was good, lifting Oxbridge to a 20-7 halftime lead.
Both teams punted to open the second half, but Richardson and the ThunderWolves came back on their next possession to open a 26-7 lead.
The junior hit on two long completions, including one to Herman McCray in which the tight end dragged tacklers for about 10 yards, and then connected with Luis Gonzalez for a 4-yard score with 3:28 left in the third quarter.
Melbourne Central Catholic couldn’t answer, with Oxbridge’s defense continuing to shut down the Hustlers in the second half.
Iowa State commit V’Lique Carter intercepted a Melbourne Central Catholic pass late in the quarter and returned it 55 yards, but the ThunderWolves’ drive stalled inside the Hustlers’ 10.
It didn’t matter, with Oxbridge finding the end zone one more time, as Gonzalez scored on a 48-yard run for a 32-7 lead.