The Oak Hill Academy Raiders (5-5; 1-3) have had some kind of a turn-around season in 2012.
The Raiders did not win a single game during the 2011 campaign, but under new leadership the team has rebounded for five regular season wins with one to go.
That one game that is left is perhaps the biggest of the season. If the Raiders win against Immanuel on Friday night, Oak Hill will have done its job in terms of setting itself up for a playoff appearance.
Across the state, Canton will have to defeat Manchester at Canton, and Leake will have to dismantle Winston at Leake Academy to go along with a road win for the Raiders. That will ensure the team will play in November.
“We’ve got a good shot,” said head coach Daniel Merchant on Tuesday afternoon.
Merchant led the Raiders to two consecutive victories to start the 2012 season, including a district win over Winston, which is one of the clubs that has to lose in order for Oak Hill to advance as a wild card team.
The team went through some trials in the middle portion of the season, struggling on offense and defense, but the squad has rebounded in the last couple of weeks with wins over New Site and Kirk Academy to set themselves up for a strong finish.
“It’s a new mindset that I hoped to bring here when I took the job,” Merchant said. “I wanted to get that losing mindset gone and start a winning mindset here.”
Oak Hill could have very easily thrown in the towel after back-to-back 42-0 loses a few weeks ago. Instead the team kept the focus and worked hard to regain momentum going into the final district game in Lowndes County.
Immanuel has won just three games in 2012, but Merchant knows all too well how tough the team can be. He coach with the club for two years.
“They’re not going to give it to us,” Merchant said. “They are going to be trying to spoil it for us. That is a tough place to play.”
The Raiders can not much think about the other two games that must go their way. The Raiders have to take care of business during their own contest.
“We can’t be thinking about that,” Merchant said. “We have to take care of Immanuel.”
The Raider running game has emerged in the last two weeks, as well getting some strong passing out of sophomore Riley Pierce.
Three rushers had 90-plus yards on Friday night at home. Two already have accumulated 400 yards rushing on the season, and Drake Riley is sitting at 565 yards rushing on the season.
“We have some strong running backs going for us,” Merchant said. “Riley Pierce has really stepped in for Conner Baird who has been injured. He’s thrown well, and he has a bright future ahead of him.”
Oak Hill will travel to Immanuel to play at 7 p.m. on Friday night.