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After a two-hour bus ride to Batesville, Mississippi, the Raiders knew it would be an all or nothing battle ahead of them against the MAIS AA #4 North Delta Green Wave. Oak Hill hoped to play the role of giant killers on Friday night in the first-round playoff clash.
A quick first half saw Oak Hill fall behind the eight ball when they turned the ball over four times, twice on kick off fumbles and twice by way of an interception. North Delta capitalized on Oak Hill mistakes scoring 42 unanswered points in the first half. Oak Hill hoped to rebound in the second half when a Dakota Oâ€™Bryant interception set up a Drew Riley 28-yard scamper to the end zone sparking a temporary Raider rally. A running clock hurt the Raidersâ€™ comeback chances as North Delta went on to win 42-14, knocking the Oak Hill Raiders out of the MAIS AA playoffs.
â€śNorth Delta is a great ball club, best team we have played all year,â€ť commented Coach Daniel Merchant in regards to North Delta.
The Raiders never had much going for them offensively in the first half. Though the first half was negative for Oak Hillâ€™s offense, Coach Merchant challenged his ball club to return in the second half and win that half. The Raiders answered that challenge coming out in the second with much better offensive possessions. Second half-scoring consisted of Rileyâ€™s twenty-eight yard touchdown run following the Oâ€™Bryant interception in the third quarter and a short touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
On defense, Oak Hill did not fare well against a balanced, disciplined North Delta attack. North Delta capitalized on the majority of their possessions and increased their lead on every drive in the first half demonstrating how well they could play offense.
The final score though was the least of any worries for players, fans, or coaches at the end of this Friday night contest. Jeb Stevens, Oak Hillâ€™s wingback/defensive back, was injured on a routine tackle in the fourth quarter. Stevens was carried away to the hospital by helicopter. The Daily Times Leader will report further on Stevensâ€™ condition as information becomes available.
â€śOur thoughts and prayers are with the family,â€ť said Coach Merchant mentioning injured Jeb Stevens, â€śJeb is a great leader; we just need to pray for him and hope everything is okay.â€ť
Though Oak Hill was on the wrong side of Friday nightâ€™s game, a winless season last year has been erased from memory by first year Head Coach Daniel Merchant. Merchant knows how valuable making this playoff game is for the Raiders and rebuilding a program. Coach Merchant has nothing but praise for his whole team and especially his senior class. â€śWe could not have done this without our Seniors,â€ť said Coach Merchant, â€śI told them [Seniors] they could either be a stumbling block or a stepping stone to this program.; they have definitely helped us.â€ť Merchant continued his praise of the senior class, saying they will be remembered as the class that turned the Raider program around.
The Raiders are no longer in contention for the AA crown, but can hold their heads high after a great turn-around season. The future is bright for Oak Hill football as many sophomore and junior players from this seasonâ€™s team will return next year, ready to fight for the Raiders next fall.