The Oxford High School junior standout made game-changing plays in several different capacities during the Yellow Jackets’ 21-17 season-opening win over Carrollton at Grisham Stadium, with his final highlight-reel performance ultimately putting Oxford over the top.
Thomas’ 17-yard touchdown run with 4:16 remaining in the game capped off the comeback from a 17-7 halftime deficit in a season-opening showdown of perennial powerhouses.
“I mean, he made some big plays, especially in the kicking game. He ran a kickoff back for a touchdown, ran another kickoff back down again to get them in good position. Grabs a botched punt and runs it about 50 yards to get a first down. So, yeah, he’s definitely a great player,” noted Trojan coach Rayvan Teague of Thomas, a major Division I recruit that is getting looks from the likes of Alabama.
Along with his touchdown gallop, Thomas also wracked up 130 kickoff return yards, including a 93-yard touchdown jolt for the Yellow Jackets’ first score of the night. Thomas also rushed 17 times for 86 yards, earning 80 of those in the second half.
The Class 6A No. 7 Yellow Jackets (1-0) used Thomas’ athleticism to their advantage even on the miffed punt, where they were attempting to punt deep in their own territory and the snap went over his head. Thomas scooped the ball up inside the Oxford 20-yard line, got loose and darted up to the Yellow Jacket 49-yard line.
Oxford then marched the final 51 yards to pull within 17-14 on a four-yard touchdown run by Yellow Jacket sophomore quarterback Ty Webber with 6:11 left in the third quarter, creating a major momentum swing in the game.
Thomas’ second touchdown of the night put Oxford on top for the first time all night at 21-17 and left for a frustrating finish for the No. 3 Trojans (0-1) for the second consecutive year on opening night.
And with a lot of young players getting their first taste of big-time varsity action, Teague thought his team gained some valuable experience, albeit in a tough manner.
“We saw some of our guys in the fire. We see the ones that’s got to get better. We see the ones that’s got to improve and get a little tougher. I wasn’t pleased offensively in the second half. I didn’t think we blocked well, I didn’t think we executed well, we didn’t pass protect well. We made mistakes,” Teague said.
It was a different story in the opening half.
The Trojans grabbed an early 7-0 lead after taking the opening kickoff 61 yards in 12 plays, capped by a one-yard sneak from junior quarterback Will Hesterlee with 6:18 remaining in the opening quarter.
Oxford needed just 11 seconds to tie the game up at 7-all after Thomas went untouched to return the ensuing kickoff 93 yards to the house. But that was the only highlight for the Yellow Jackets offensively early.
For the half, Oxford had just 23 yards of total offense and two first downs — including minus-one yard on the ground — although Thomas did gobble up the 130 returns yards in the first 24 minutes on the two kickoff returns.
After Thomas tied the game up at 7-7, both teams swapped punts before Carrollton junior wing back Trey Chivers put the home team up 14-7 on a 14-yard touchdown run with 16.8 seconds left in the first quarter.
Following another short Yellow Jacket possession, Hesterlee converted a pair of third-down passes to set up a 36-yard Tyler Newsome field goal with 4:25 left in the half to stretch Carrollton’s lead to 17-7, a score that stood to the half.
The Trojans never got going in the second half, though, finishing with 174 yards of total offense, led by freshman Jarvis Terrell’s 35 rushing yards and 24 receiving yards. Hesterlee was 3-of-10 through the air for 50 yards.
Teague said there were some positives to take from the game, but the No. 1 focus now is to get back in the film room and fix some things before hosting Chapel Hill next Friday.
“Defensively, we played better [Friday] than I expected. Offensively, we played really well in the first half. But I’ll take credit. We didn’t do a very good job at halftime of getting them ready for the second half,” Teague said.