JACKSON - When it was all over, amid the jubilation on the Oak Grove sideline, Nevil Barr embraced Kirk McCarty and told him, "I love you, man."
The Warrior coach and the senior quarterback finally delivered the dream for the long-suffering Oak Grove community, which has seen so many seasons in recent years end in disappointment.
Oak Grove used an uncharacteristically rock-ribbed defense and McCarty made enough big plays to get the Warriors past Tupelo 14-7 in the Class 6A State Championship game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The Warriors finished 14-1 in winning their first state title; Tupelo was 13-2.
"It feels great, especially for the kids, for our community," said Barr. "We really felt like our defense was as good as any defense in the state of Mississippi, and we told our kids to go out and show everyone that we were as good as anybody."
Tupelo slowed down the usually-prolific Oak Grove defense, shutting out the Warriors in the first half.
But the Oak Grove defense answered their coach's call, shutting out the Golden Wave in the first half themselves, then making big plays in the fourth quarter to preserve a one-touchdown lead.
"We played as one," said junior safety J.C. Keyes, whose fumble recovery stopped a big play for Tupelo early in the fourth quarter.
"We're a band of brothers, a family. That was a big play. The quarterback had a big run, but Picasso Nelson stripped it and I was right there to make the play."
Senior cornerback Trey Sloan had two interceptions, but the big key was slowing down Golden Wave senior tailback Quinn Tiggs, who came into the game with 1,400 yards rushing and 569 receiving yards.
"The key was to stop (Tiggs)," said Warrior defensive coordinator Casey Cain. "He was their best player. Picasso Nelson is my best cover guy, so I just put him on Tiggs. We felt like our DBs were better than their wide receivers
"We wanted to take away (Tiggs) and while the quarterback hurt us on a few plays, we were confident that we weren't going to let (Tiggs) beat us."
In the end, though, it came down to the Warriors making a few more plays on offense, including a hastily-devised trick play that resulted in the winning points.
After stopping Tupelo on a three-and-out with the opening possession of the second half, McCarty drove the Warriors 68 yards on seven plays, scoring on a 5-yard pass to Cameron Myers.
"That's the best defense I've ever played against," said McCarty, who was 23 of 40 passing for 268 yards.
"We really didn't talk about anything schematic (at halftime). It was just another game where our senior leaders stepped up. We had time at halftime to get refocused. We knew what we had to do, and we did it."
Tupelo came right back, using two big pass plays - one a flea-flicker halfback pass from Tiggs to quarterback Daniel Bristow - to set up Tiggs' 4-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7-7.
But the play of the game was forthcoming.
Starting at their own 11-yard line, Oak Grove drove to the Tupelo 4, where they faced a fourth-and-1. The Warriors lined up to kick a field goal, but left tight end Logan Scott split on the far left side.
McCarty, the holder, took the snap, stood up and threw to Scott who was wide open in the end zone.
"We just put that play in today," said McCarty. "It seemed like it hung up there for 20 minutes getting to Logan."
Tupelo shut the Warriors down the rest of the way, and it was up to the defense to step up. In succession, Oak Grove got Keyes' fumble, stopped the Golden Wave on fourth down, forced a punt and got Sloan's clinching interception.
As the final seconds ticked off, the Warrior sideline erupted in joy, and the center of attention was former NFL MVP Brett Favre, who has volunteered as the Warriors offensive coordinator the past three seasons.
"I can't say it's a Super Bowl, but it's pretty close," said Favre. "It really is. It's a different kind of feeling, but I'm awfully proud of these kids."