By Bryan Davis
At times it was ugly.
The first half of Friday night’s conference battle between the Oak Hill Academy Raiders (2-4; 1-0) and the Carroll Academy Rebels (2-3; 0-1), at times, looked like a wild west shootout.
The two teams exchanged fire and they exchanged touchdowns. At the end of the third quarter, it looked like a sure win for the Raiders, but by the middle of the fourth, the Rebels shot their way back into the fray.
It went down to the wire, but Oak Hill finally won its second game of the season, a 45-41 victory over the Rebels.
“We had more than they did when the game was over,” said Oak Hill head coach Leroy Gregg after the game. “That’s how you win football games.”
The Raider offense had been anemic the first four games of the season. From week two through week four, the Oak Hill offense scored just 12 points in a dozen quarters.
Last week, they broke out of that slump with a 46-12 win over Hebron Christian. Not scoring any more than 14 points before that game, the Raiders came back out on Friday and repeated the 40-plus point feat again.
Earlier in the week, Gregg said that Carroll was going to bring a lot of speed on offense and defense. That was speed Oak Hill was able to control Friday night.
“They didn’t come over the top of us,” Gregg said. “A lot of points were scored because we were very poor tacklers tonight. We did sort of shut their speed down, as far as any long touchdown passes are concerned.”
The game started great for Oak Hill. Phillip Liu managed to recover a fumble by the Rebel special teams on the opening kickoff. Oak Hill would eventually turn the ball over on downs, giving Carroll their first shot at an offensive drive.
They didn’t know it at the time, but forcing the Rebels offense to turn the ball over on downs after four plays would prove to be critical.
In Friday night’s game, it seemed that whoever scored first was going to come out on top in what would turn into a back-and-forth offensive show.
Oak Hill did not let the second possession go to waste. Bo Sanford got things started with a modest three yard gain. Doss Miller tacked on six to the drive.
The drive that started at the Rebel 45 yard line ended in the Rebel end zone, as Miller took the ball, on a rush, 36 yards to pay dirt to give his team a 6-0 lead.
With 7:06 left to go in the first, Carroll began their response. It took a little over a minute, but the answer was clear when Breland Marrett connected with Clay Perry for a 50 yard touchdown pass to tie the game, with 5:51 to go in the first.
Miller had scored the first touchdown of the game for the Raiders, but Sanford was not going to give anybody else a chance on Oak Hill’s next drive. The drive lasted one play and 33 seconds, and it accounted for 72 yards, as Sanford rushed it in to make it 13-6, home team.
There was a lot of time to play in the first quarter, which already produced three touchdowns, and half time seemed like an eternity away.
After the Rebels’ next drive resulted in a three-and-out punt, Oak Hill began driving. It didn’t last long, as quarterback Jeb Stevens put the ball right in the hands of his Rebel counterpart, Marrett, who intercepted inside the Raider 10 yard line. Perry took it in for the score on the next carry, making it 13-12 after a failed two-point conversion.
Hanging on to the slim lead with 3:17 still on the first quarter clock, Stevens began another drive, putting that turnover behind him.
Stationed at their own 33 yard line, the Raiders started off with a 10 yard rush by Miller. He would gain nine more over the next two plays.
On a third and 11, Sanford gained 10, but the Raiders were faced with a fourth down situation. Stevens took matters into his own hands, scrambling with the ball 23 yards, just shy of the red zone, for a first down.
Miller would gain three yards on the first down play, and he would back that up with an 18 yard touchdown rush to give his team a 20-12 advantage, after a good PAT by Chance Livingston.
The best news was that the Raiders took nearly three minutes off the clock, and a quarter that saw a collective five touchdowns and 32 points was over.
The second quarter started out with a failed drive by Carroll, but Oak Hill’s offense would eventually cough up the ball with 5:17 to go in the half.
This gave the Rebels good field position, and it gave Marrett and Perry another opportunity to put the ball into the end zone, which is what they did. Perry scored on a 34 yard touchdown pass, with 4:35 to go in the half, cutting the Raider lead to 20-18.
The Raider answer to that touchdown was swift. Sanford caught the kickoff on his own 15 yard line, and he dodged tacklers for 85 yards, scoring to make it 27-18, after Livingston delivered the extra point.
There was still 4:18 to go on the ticker at that point, but the two offenses cooled off and took that score into the second half.
Things remained that way for about the first eight minutes of the third quarter. That was until Oak Hill was prepared to take another punt from Carroll.
Sanford was in the mix again, catching the ball and running it back 22 yards to the Rebel 19 yard line, setting up first and 10 in the red zone.
Miller, who scored first for the Raiders, took the ball on a carry from the 18 yard line to score on the second down play to make it 33-18, with 3:32 left in the third. That would prove to be the only score in the period.
Fifty seconds into the final quarter, Oak Hill had the ball again, this time on the Rebel 27 yard line.
Stevens dropped back to pass. He tossed the ball into the air, and it came down in Sanford’s hands. The receiver gained possession of the ball and took it into the end zone for the touchdown, giving Oak Hill a 39-18 advantage.
A fourth quarter lead like that might be typically secure, but Friday night was no typical night. Carroll had shown their potential early in the game, and giving them any breathing room could prove detrimental.
With 6:41 to go in the game, a Rebel drive culminated in a Marrett touchdown pass that brought the score to 39-22. There was no reason to panic. That was until the Raiders fumbled the ball on the onside kick, giving the Rebels prime field position.
“It came right to us,” Gregg said. “We were in position, but we didn’t finish the play.”
In a little over a minute, Perry was in the end zone again, cutting the lead to 39-33, with 5:16 to go. When a team is struggling to hang on to a six point lead, five minutes seems a lot longer.
The Raiders had to have one more touchdown left in the tank. They knew that might not even be enough, but they had to get into the end zone one last time, as Carroll seemed bent on bridging that gap.
Oak Hill turned to Sanford, the trusty back and receiver. He caught a 14 yard pass in the Raider drive, but it was his 37 yard touchdown run that got the Oak Hill crowd pumped. The score was now 45-33, but 3:05 remained on the clock.
Once again, it took Carroll just a little over a minute to get Perry into the end zone to make it 45-41. The Oak Hill crowd was still pumped and as loud as they’ve been all season, but the 1:50 left on the ticker meant Carroll had a shot. A Rebel touchdown would likely have doomed the Raiders.
Three-and-out was not an option for Oak Hill. They had to get a first down and ride that clock out.
“We had to have one first down to keep the ball out of their hands,” Gregg said.
Sanford continued his good clutch work, gaining 10 yards on a second and 10. That was enough to allow Stevens to take a knee on three consecutive plays to end the nail biter.
“That run to get that first down was probably the most important thing we did offensively tonight,” Gregg said. “We had to keep the ball away from Carroll because we obviously could not stop them at the end.”
Sanford ended the game with 305 yards on the ground. He scored two touchdowns, including a 27 yard reception for a score.
Stevens threw for a touchdown, and he rushed 33 yard.
Miller had 142 yards on the ground, with three touchdowns.
Next week, Oak Hill continues its season with a non-conference match against Lamar, at home.
Conference play will resume at Manchester on October 8.