RED OAK — Three hundred forty-one days ago the Red Oak Hawks snapped a lengthy winless streak with a three-point win over Arlington Heights at Billy Goodloe Stadium. The stage was set on Friday for either team to duplicate the margin.
Only this time, overtime was involved, and Red Oak’s CJ Palmer decided to make the first win of the season twice as sweet.
The sophomore running back needed just two carries, a hop step to his right and stiff arm of a linebacker in overtime to find the end zone for the 34-28 Red Oak victory. His 10-yard touchdown came two plays after defensive tackle Eris Smith recovered a Yellowjacket fumble on the only possession for Arlington Heights in the extra frame.
Palmer led all rushers with 23 carries for 148 yards and three touchdowns. For comparison, Hawk ball carriers ran 29 times for 105 yards in 2016. On Friday, Palmer also accounted for almost 60 percent of the Hawks’ offense. Red Oak was outgained by Heights 255 yards to 377 and picked up seven fewer first downs (18-11).
Fourth-year Red Oak head football coach Brian Brown said he expects Palmer to lead the Hawk offense week in and week out.
"He is a really good player for us. We had a lot of other stuff to run but because we were so successful with our base offense we stayed with that," said Brown after being congratulated by his wife and daughter on the field Friday. "We practiced a lot of different stuff throughout the week, but we talked during the first quarter and decided we were just going to stick with it."
"Carson (Forbes) went out hurt and that affected our game plan a little, too," he added. "He ran the offense so much better this week. You could see it. Two passes and two touchdowns in the first half. He did a good job. [...] If we can continue to raise our performance, as a team each week then we are going to be OK. I thought we had a little stage fright last week and Corsicana had a little to do with that. But I thought, tonight, we came out and handle ourselves better."
Red Oak defeated Heights 17-14 last season to end a 21-game winless drought. The difference maker in that thriller was a 21-yard Edgar Perez field goal with a little over four minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
The two teams lit the scoreboard up in the first half this time around, as Red Oak carried a 28-21 lead into the locker room.
The Hawks took their first lead of the season by capitalizing on a short field thanks to a botched Yellowjacket snap on fourth and long. The Yellowjacket miscue put the Red Oak offense to work on the Heights 23-yard line. Back to back rushes for Palmer resulted in a 17-yard touchdown scamper, his first of three, with just over 10 minutes to play in the first quarter.
Heights answered back with a 10-yard touchdown run by quarterback Trey Jones to cap an eight-play, 77-yard drive. The Michael Somerville kick tied the game at seven with 6:25 on the first-quarter clock.
Palmer added his second rushing touchdown three-and-a-half minutes later, this time from two yards out, for a 14-7 Red Oak lead. The Hawk offense struck again when Forbes hit Hunter Smith in stride for a 17-yard touchdown and 14-point lead, 21-7, with 10:09 to go in the second quarter.
Jones then hit Adrian Robinson for a 55-yard touchdown pass on the next Heights possession. After a 27-yard touchdown completion from Forbes to Tallon Henie to cap the first-half Red Oak scoring, the Yellowjacket quarterback capped a long drive with a two-yard touchdown run. His second touchdown run came with seven seconds to play in the first half.
But, after the marching bands cleared the field, the two defenses stole the show. The first first-down for Heights in the second half came on a five-yard Jones run with 1:09 to play in the third quarter.
Smith — a 6-foot, 280-pound offensive and defensive tackle — led the defensive unit for the Hawks, picking up three sacks, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery in the second half alone.
"Eris is probably the best player on our team. He has all of the tools to play at the next level. He is a great player," Brown said. "[...] Eris is one of the best players in our district and will be all year, and that is saying something."
Neither team hit pay dirt in the second half until Jones found a wide-open Denarius Webster in the middle of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 26 seconds on the fourth-quarter clock.
ON THE MEND
With Red Oak leading 28-14 late in the second quarter, Arlington Heights running back Adrian Robinson was in obvious pain after being tackled near the Yellowjacket sideline. He was placed on a stretcher with a lower leg injury but gave the fans and his teammates a thumbs up as he was rolled toward an ambulance beyond the north end zone.
Red Oak starting quarterback Carson Forbes injured his right knee in the third quarter. Though he did not return and had ice wrapped on his knee during the third and fourth quarters, Forbes was seen jogging on the sidelines prior to the first overtime possession in an attempt to check back into the contest. Head coach Brian Brown does not believe the injury to be serious.
Red Oak hosts Athens in week two with a chance to improve to 2-1 for the second straight season. The Hawks lost the first two all-time meetings against the Hornets before trouncing Athens 42-21 on the road last season. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
Homecoming festivities are also planned throughout the week around Red Oak ISD. The annual parade is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 15 at 2 p.m. More details on the weeklong celebration can be obtained by emailing Debbie Templeton at firstname.lastname@example.org.