HAMPTON — If you were writing a script, it would have been hard to stay closer to the storyline.
With four minutes to go in Friday’s game here, Oneida led Hampton 14-0.
Then Hampton quickly scored.
Then Hampton got the ball back.
It was an end-of-game progression eerily similar to Oneida’s gut-wrenching loss to Rockwood a week earlier, when the Tigers stormed back from a 13-0 deficit in the final four minutes to win the game.
When Hampton blocked a field goal try and quickly moved the ball to mid-field with less than a minute remaining, the feeling of deja vu hovering over J.C. Campbell Field was so thick you could have cut it with a knife.
“I was about to get sick again,” Oneida coach Tony Lambert said later.
But, this time, the script would have a different ending.
Oneida swarmed Hampton tailback Jerry Lunsford on a fourth down play, stopping him less than two inches short of a first down with 22 seconds remaining, allowing the Indians to escape with a 14-8 win.
“We played hard. I want to say that,” Lambert said.
The script of Friday’s game did have its differences from the previous week’s game against Rockwood. Against the Tigers, Oneida dominated defensively until the game’s final two possessions. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, repeatedly moved the ball inside Oneida’s 10-yard-line only to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties.
After an Oneida goal line stand in the first quarter that turned Hampton away, the Bulldogs twice completed passes inside the five-yard-line and once completed a pass for an apparent touchdown, but all were wiped off by holding penalties. For the game, Hampton was penalized seven times for 59 yards.
But the penalties were largely due to Oneida’s rushing defensive front, which repeatedly put pressure on quarterback Coby Jones.
“I thought our defense rose up when we had to, I really did,” Lambert said. “We just kept making plays.”
Oneida’s bend-but-don’t-break resolve was apparent on the game’s opening drive, when Hampton chewed more than eight minutes off the clock and moved inside Oneida’s 10-yard-line before the Indians’ defense stiffened their backs. On fourth-and-goal from the two-yard-line, linebacker Dalton Chambers knocked down Lunsford at the line of scrimmage.
After a three-and-out by Oneida, Hampton had the first of its would-be scoring drives set back by miscues. After a questionable pass interference penalty against Oneida on a fourth down incomplete pass in the end zone gave Hampton a first down inside the 10, the Bulldogs were twice flagged for holding and eventually were forced to punt after Tyler Swindell sacked Jones on third down.
The Indians took advantage by putting together a scoring drive that was capped by a Zach King three-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter.
Hampton again drove into Oneida’s red zone and Jones threw what appeared to be a touchdown pass, but it was wiped off by a holding penalty. That resulted in an interception by Tanner Sexton on the next play to end the scoring threat.
With the 7-0 lead still intact at halftime, it did not take Oneida long to add some insurance points in the second half. Jacob Adams took the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, giving his team a 14-0 lead following Bryce Couch’s extra point.
That is how things stood until late in the ballgame. Hampton’s only other scoring threat ended when Cage West broke up a fourth down pass in the end zone with 5:37 to play.
But with 4:33 remaining, Hampton got the ball back. And immediately struck for a touchdown. After Jones scrambled for a 29-yard gain, Caleb West managed to get behind Oneida’s secondary and snagged a 34-yard touchdown pass from Jones. Jones added the two-point conversion, and it was suddenly 14-8.
Oneida recovered the ensuing onside kick, then turned to its fullbacks, Chambers and Jake Lawson, to chew up valuable clock with important first downs.
It was Oneida’s fullbacks who played a vital role in Oneida’s lone offensive touchdown in the first half, as well.
“They packed the rock,” Lambert said. “Both of them. They did. We leaned on our fullbacks heavily.”
But Hampton managed to hold Oneida, forcing a fourth down situation and a 41-yard field goal attempt with just under a minute to play. The Bulldogs got a good surge up the middle and blocked the kick.
“We got some of our special teams fixed, obviously, with the second half kickoff return and making our extra points, but that pressure up the middle . . . if Jake (Lambert) doesn’t recover the ball, who knows what happens there?” Lambert said. “Heads up play by Jacob Lambert.”
Out of time outs, Hampton quickly picked up eight yards on first down, but was forced to spike the ball to kill the clock after the receiver was unable to get out of bounds. A third down pass that just skipped off the finger tips of an open receiver downfield set up a fourth down. Hampton opted to try to pick up the first on the ground to buy itself some extra plays, but Lunsford was stopped short by the left side of the Indians’ defense.
“We knew they could spin the ball and they did,” Lambert said. “Every receiver that they’ve got is good, and I don’t know if we’ll see a better quarterback than that.
“I know one thing,” Lambert added. “This is two weeks in a row that people have said we are physical and we will hit you.”