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HATTIESBURG – In Jess Lang’s final season as boys head soccer coach at Oak Grove, he might just have a team capable of delivering an elusive state championship.

The Warriors came out full throttle right from the very beginning and roared past Ocean Springs 3-1 in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs Saturday night at Warrior Field.

Oak Grove (16-2) will travel to face Northwest Rankin on Tuesday in the South State championship. The Cougars got past Brandon 1-0, also on Saturday. The Greyhounds finished their season at 9-11-2.

MORE: Updated MHSAA Boys Soccer Brackets

“This game is a huge relief, because this is where we’ve been stopped that last few years,” said Lang, who has guided the Warriors for 22 successful seasons, but who has never taken a team to the state championships.

“I’ve actually thought we had a team capable of going (to the state finals) the last three years, but it’s always been the second round. And usually it’s somebody we’ve played and have beaten at some point in the season. So, to get over this hump is huge.”

History did not repeat itself, however, as Oak Grove defeated Ocean Springs for the second time this season, adding Saturday’s win to a 2-1 win over the Greyhounds in November, also at home.

The Warriors did it with the fastest of all possible starts, scoring a goal just 40 seconds after the opening kickoff. Junior Cade Ortego took a wide shot from senior Luke Dickson and put the ball in the net from 10 yards out.

“It was crazy,” said Ortego. “Broc (Bookout) played a ball that was perfectly on the floor to Luke and Luke played a ball that was perfectly on the floor to me. It was just a beautiful goal. I didn’t have much to do with it at all. I was just there.”

Indeed, Dickson broke free down the left side and got an uncontested shot that served the purpose of a crossing pass for Ortego.

“It’s tough to go on the road against a good team and give up a goal like that, and expect to have a chance to win,” said Ocean Springs coach Jeff French. “I don’t think we played well in the first half, but I think the way Oak Grove played had a lot to do with that.”

In fact, Lang said Saturday’s first half was one of the best his team has played all season.

“We came out as fast, maybe the second Brandon game was one where we did the same thing,” said Lang. “We came out quick. We kept possession, kept the ball moving around.”

The Greyhounds were able to recover and had a couple of chances over the next 20 minutes, and they thought they had the equalizer in the 24th minute after Dustin Landry quick-kicked a free kick from 35 yards out that went in the net.

“The referee said we were off the mark by a yard,” said French. “Normally, we don’t need to hear a whistle for a restart on a free kick unless we ask for 10 (yards), which we didn’t.

“Our guys are told to look for the keeper and if they’re not set to put it in the back of the goal, which they did. No reason for that to be called back. But what’s done is done.”

The call was critical, too, because two minutes later Dickson bombed in a rocket shot from 35 yards out that Greyhound goalkeeper Caleb Pepper had no chance to stop.

“I knew I was going to shoot it the whole time,” said Dickson. “I thought it was going over (the net), but I guess it just dropped in.”

Ocean Springs only got one shot on goal in the first half, coming off its only corner kick of the game, in the 28th minute. Otherwise, the first 40-plus minutes were dominated by the Warriors.

“We definitely prepared well for this game,” said Ortego. “I think that showed in the first half. We wanted it more, and I think we wanted it more in both halves.”

A big part of Oak Grove’s dominance in the first 60 minutes of play was a pesky midfield, led by senior Brady Mills and junior Julio Martinez, who completely gummed up the Greyhounds’ offense.

“My coach has been telling me to go up and get more action on the ball,” said Martinez. “I listened tonight. We started off the second half kind of slow, but we adjusted to it.”

Down 2-0 at halftime, Ocean Springs came out with a little more purpose in the second half, getting pressure that resulted in three shots, one on-goal, in the first six minutes of the period.

The Greyhounds nearly got a goal in the 56th minute when a shot banged off the left post, and that seemed to reignite the Warriors, who came at the attacking end in waves, getting three shots on net in the next 10 minutes.

It was Dickson who finally cashed one in for Oak Grove, beating a diving Pepper to the ball 25 yards out and leisurely tapped in the Warriors’ third goal of the game in the 72nd minute.

Ocean Springs made it interesting in the final 10 minutes, when Mark Peaden scored on a direct free kick from 30 yards out.

“The second half, I thought we played phenomenal,” said French. “Unfortunately, that’s been our Achilles heel all year. We struggle to put a full 80 minutes together. If we come out and play 80 minutes like that, I don’t know if we win, but it would be a dang good game.

“But hat’s off to Oak Grove. That’s a quality team, they played a quality game and, to be fair, the team that deserved to win was Oak Grove.”

Lang said he thought the Warriors lost some focus in the latter stages of the game.

“We did everything right until the last 20 minutes,” said Lang. “Then, I guess we said, ‘hey, let’s make this interesting.’ I was more nervous in those last 20 minutes than during the whole rest of the game.”

Lang’s fears were unfounded as the Warriors were able to play out the final minutes without giving the Greyhounds any more chances.

For the game, Ocean Springs finished with 11 shots, but just four on goal. Oak Grove had 13 shots and eight were on target.

The Warriors faced off with Northwest Rankin earlier this season, with the Cougars defeating Oak Grove 1-0 in November.

“I think we’ve got a chance to go up there and win,” said Lang. “It was a one-goal game; they got a (penalty kick) on a mistake on our part. Other than that, it was pretty level.

“So, yeah, I think we’ve got a chance. If we play like we played the first 60 minutes tonight, I think we’ll be OK.”