WEST CHESTER >> West Chester Henderson had won its last 16 season openers.
The road to No. 17 proved to be too tough a hill to climb for the Warriors as a fired up and talented Oxford team knocked the 20th ranked team in the Pa. Prep Live Top 20 off its perch with a thrilling 34-27 nonleague triumph.
The Hornets scored the game-winning touchdown on a perfect four yard pass from Chandler England to Brandon DeShields with 14 seconds to play to secure the victory after a late Henderson interception.
Oxford lost many close games last year, including three games by a total of nine points. Hornets (1-0) head coach Mike Means said this victory was huge for his squad, and one his kids had surely earned.
“We finally got the big monkey off our backs tonight,” Means said. “We needed to not just stay close but to beat a big time program and West Chester Henderson is a big time program. These kids were down two touchdowns in the second half and they never quit. all the running, all the lifting, all the hard work these kids put in came to pay off tonight. Now, the challenge is to keep things going and now we have to deal with being 1-0. We want to approach things like we are 1-0 every week.”
Hornets quarterback Chandler England completed 23 of 37 passes for 316 yards. For the game, Oxford totaled 479 total yards against the Warrior defense. England hooked up with Brandon Deshields for 10 completions and 104 yards. But, Henderson, which only had 11 first downs to the Hornets’ 22, was in the game because of some big plays.
The Warriors scored on a 97-yard touchdown run by C.J. Preston, who rushed for 145 yards. Preston also returned a kickoff 85 yards and Henderson quarterback Joe Saulino hooked up with Ian Tracy for a 58-yard touchdown strike.
But Oxford won the game in the trenches as it handled the Warriors up front on both sides of the ball. One of those Hornets who helped the cause was big Connor McMurrough.
“We are just killers,” said the senior McMurrough. “We have that killer mentality and we just went after it in the fourth period. We want to have a big year and make the playoffs and do some damage and this was the first step tonight. We are going to have a very big season.”
After three periods, Henderson (0-1) had a 27-19 lead, but Oxford roared back to outscore the Warriors, 15-0, in the final stanza. The Hornets actually scored the last three touchdowns of the game. Tim Faber banged in from a yard out at the end of the third period to set up the late heroics.
With the game tied at 27, Henderson took an Oxford punt at its own 20-yard line with just over six minutes to play. The Warriors, led by Preston, pushed the ball to the Oxford 40-yard line, but Saulino was picked off by Brandon Deshields and the Hornets were in business and ready for the upset.
Oxford promptly drove into Henderson territory behind the hard running of Faber and two pretty England passes to Julian Nadachowski. The Hornets lined up for a field goal attempt when their drive stalled at the Henderson 15 yard line. The Warriors jumped offside, however, giving the Hornets a first down. And after a run by Faber, England threw the winning toss and Oxford made a very loud statement to the rest of the Ches-Mont League that it is for real.
“We never doubted ourselves when we were down in the second half,” England said. “The sideline was up all night and we just believed we would do it. We came back and won the fourth quarter and we were better conditioned than them. They seemed a little gassed. To beat a team like Henderson is a huge thing for this program.”