First thing’s first.
The Oak Hill Academy Raiders (6-5; 2-3) had to defeat Immanuel Christian (3-7; 0-5) on Friday night to even have a shot at a playoff berth.
Mark that one off the checklist. The Raiders slid by Immanuel 20-19 on a cold, windy and slightly rainy Friday night.
Next order of business was to keep an eye on the scoreboard from around the state because a wild card berth would have to come at the hands of Winston Academy and Manchester Academy loses to Leake and Canton respectively.
News came in around 10:30 that both teams had lost, meaning the Raiders are in post-season play.
“They’re really showed their resilience,” Head Coach Daniel Merchant said of his Raiders on Saturday. “The hard work has really paid off.”
The Raiders not only got into the playoffs, but this Oak Hill team is the first to have a winning record in six years.
Oak Hill came up with some big time plays on Friday night to overtake the tough home Immanuel team.
Losing the ball on the ground three times during the game was tough, but 203 rushing yards, two touchdowns, and 146 passing yards by Riley Pierce that accounted for two scores more than made up for the fumbles.
“That Riley Pierce is a very good quarterback,” Merchant said. “That was much-needed.”
On a night where conditions were not the greatest on the field, Pierce went to the air eight times and connected for five completions, the most important being a 66 yard touchdown pass to tight end Bradley Allen with six minutes to go in the game. Before they hooked up, Oak Hill was trailing 19-14. With that touchdown, the Raiders had the one-point advantage they would ride until the buzzer.
“That was the catch of the year,” Merchant said. “If he doesn’t catch that ball I don’t think we win the game.”
With under a minute to go in the game, Immanuel was driving down the field, but John Willis Stevens came up with the pick of the year, running the interception back to the 20 yard line where Oak Hill ran the clock down to zero.
Drake Riley accounted for 81 yards on the ground on 10 carries, and he had a touchdown run.
Drew Riley had six carries and 60 yards. Jeb Stevens carried the ball seven themes for 39 yards, and Pierce kept it three times for 19 yards.
Samuel Harrell rushed for four yards on two carries.
Allen’s one catch made his total 66 for the night, while Drew Riley had 38 yards receiving on two catches and a 28-yard touchdown.
Curt Huffman had one catch for 22 yards and a touchdown, and Drake Riley had a 20-yard catch.
On the defensive side, Drake Riley had eight tackles, and Drew Riley had five takedowns.
Joseph Caskey had five tackles and one for a loss. A.J. Iseley had three tackles, one assist and a tackle for a loss.
Cooper Orman had one tackle, along with Paxton Trull and Dakota O’Bryant.
Jeb Stevens led the entire team with 11 tackles.
Now the Raiders will spend a week in practice preparing for the No. 4 team in the state at North Delta Academy.
The Raiders will travel to Batesville next Friday.
“That’s going to be a tough game,” Merchant said, adding that the winner of that contest will go on to play the winner of the Leake-River Oaks game next week.
Merchant’s Raiders should be up to the task. This team is peaking at the right time.
“We’ve played a tough schedule,” Merchant said. “Six of the teams we played this year are in the playoffs, so we’ve played some tough clubs.”
The Raiders will kick off at 7 p.m. at North Delta on Friday.