RAEFORD — With his backfield up to full health, and then some, for the first time in a few weeks on Friday, Purnell Swett coach Jon Sherman had a good problem to have.
The third-year coach had the starting running back for most of the season, Al’Drique Thompson, back for the first time since the Scotland loss and he joined the Rams’ two others backs forcing Sherman to rotate a new one in each drive. Even with a wealth of backs, the Rams’ offensive line failed to give them holes to run through so Sherman issued the offensive line a challenge late in Purnell Swett’s 21-14 win over Hoke.
“I’m a running guy. I know I pass a lot, but I’m a running guy and that’s why I put it on the offensive line to win the game,” Sherman said. “I said, ‘I want to win the game and we will not pass the ball once.”
It worked as the Rams ran off the clock to seal their first win in the Sandhills Athletic Conference.
On the final drive that secured the win, it wasn’t Thompson, or his backup Deandre Pankey that kept moving the chains and the clock. Instead it was senior Cameron Oxendine, who emerged as a run threat when Thompson was out. On the final drive with a offensive line working on their coach’s challenge, Oxendine rushed for 19 yards on four carries and picked up two first downs.
“This team came together tonight and played pretty good. … I just went out there and played for my team,” Oxendine said. “I’m just trying to make the most of my senior year.”
With the ball and the lead with 4-plus minutes to go, Purnell Swett (4-6, 1-5 SAC) pounded the ball on the ground and strung together its longest drive of the second half when it needed it most to down Hoke (0-10, 0-6 SAC) and get its first win since the win in Week 3 against Douglas Byrd.
Despite suffering through six losses in a row, Sherman saw an energized team show up this week to the energy level that he wants to see week in and week out from his team.
“They kept their energy and they kept their focus,” he said. ”It’s the most (wins in a season) for me and it breaks my 3-8 streak as a head coach. One time someone told me I was a 3-8 coach. I was before, but now I’m not.”
In the second half, Oxendine rushed for 51 yards as both teams traded out empty drives and turnovers in two scoreless quarters after both teams posted all their points before halftime.
“I know I don’t give him the opportunity a whole lot, but when I give it to him he goes downhill,” Sherman said. “Cameron Oxendine is going to go North and South and sometimes bounce it, and that’s what you need sometimes.”
In the second quarter, the Rams came back from a 7-0 hole to take a 21-7 lead courtesy of quarterback Luke Oxendine. With two rushing touchdowns from the senior of four and five yards out, respectively, the Rams took a 14-7 lead and then took its largest lead of the game on a 46-yard touchdown pass from Oxendine to Chandler Brayboy with 4:33 left in the first half.
With its eyes focused on the postseason, the Rams take on cross-county rival Lumberton next week. The winner takes the sixth-place spot in the conference.
“We’re in the playoffs now, and we’ve got to win those tow and let’s see what happens,” Sherman said.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.