By Bryan Davis
Last Friday night, The Raiders of Oak Hill Academy (3-6; 1-1) put on the best defensive show of the year for the home crowd in a 14-12 win over Kirk Academy. This week, they will face a tough Marshall Academy (6-2) team that will be Oak Hill’s final home game of the season.
That means that Friday night’s game will be senior night. A pre-game ceremony will honor Doss Miller and Jordan Hawkins, the two seniors on Oak Hill’s 2010 roster.
“We don’t have a big group of seniors, but they’ve been an important group to our team,” Gregg said. “These guys were my first class. I feel pretty close to them.”
Three years after arriving at Oak Hill, Gregg will be saying goodbye to the pair who were freshman when he came on board.
Gregg says he hopes that Friday night will be a memorable one for the seniors.
“We’ll have an opportunity on Friday night to do something special for those seniors,” Gregg said. “It’s not only in our ceremony before the ball game, but in the game itself. That’s an important thing for our kids to be aware of. That’s a bigger deal to me than homecoming, the senior night.”
Friday’s game against Kirk was the Raiders’ most important non-district game to date. After a 32-20 loss at Manchester, they were in need of a jolt, and they provided that.
“We talked about how important it was to change the level of our confidence, and the only way to do that is by playing well.”
Oak Hill held Kirk scoreless in the second half and they cut down on their turnovers, which was a big problem the week before.
“Momentum and confidence in athletics is not everything, but that is a huge part of success,” Gregg said. “It is especially when you’re able to get on a roll, and things start going your way a little bit, individually as players and collectively as a team.”
On offense, Miller dominated the second half, on the ground giving the passing game a much needed break.
“Watching Mississippi State play on Saturday night reminded me a lot of what we did on Friday night,” Gregg said. “We did not throw the ball very much. We still controlled the clock and the second half completely.”
Oak Hill will be looking to make it two in a row and get their fourth win of the season, trying to build more confidence before their final season and district game a week from Friday, at Winston.
“We still have an opportunity to win the division,” Gregg said. “The division is that last ball game.”
Gregg has to like the Raiders’ chances, based on how they performed on Friday.
“At this point in our season, coaches are still seeing great strides and improvement to the individuals and collectively,” Gregg said. “With 35 years in this business, when you have played nine ball games, and your kids are still improving, and it’s noticeable, that’s a rarity. It’s not rare in other sports, but in football, to see that improvement from so many individuals this late, that’s big.”
Gregg says his group, that includes nine sophomores, have not given up.
“It’s still having that desire to compete, win and be a success,” Gregg said. “It’s not giving up. They’re all sick over the Manchester game, but that’s gone, and they’re moving on.”
This week, they will be facing a very tough Patriot team that comes in with six victories on the season.
The Patriots have won five of their last six and two in a row.
“They have a lot of speed on defense, and they run to the ball real well,” said Oak Hill head coach Leroy Gregg. They’re not that physical up front, but they make up for it with their skill players.”
This week, the Raiders will likely utilize the running game much like they did against Kirk.
With Miller, Bo Sanford and Phillip Liu all proven starter, sophomore Chance Livingston also will be in the mix again this week.
“We really have four,” Gregg said of his running backs. “Chance Livingston earned a starting place on offense in the second half of that ball game on Friday night.”
Gregg said that his player’s hard work ethic in practice has allowed many of them to step up in key situations in ball games.
“We we rep our kids in practice every day,” Gregg said. “They all get reps, they just don’t all get reps on Friday night, but every time we’ve called on those guys, they’ve responded.”
Kickoff this week will be at 7 p.m., preceded by the senior night ceremony.