September 27, 2013 10:24:11 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
The Oak Hill Academy football team never will be accused of playing a soft schedule.
"We really try to play a lot of good opponents," Oak Hill Academy coach Daniel Merchant said. "The only way to become a really good team is by playing quality opposition. The kids want to play good teams. The fans want to come to good games."
The latest in a row of quality opponents for Oak Hill Academy will come at 7 tonight against Heritage Academy at C.L. Mitchell Field in Columbus.
"Heritage is really playing some solid football," Merchant said. "Barrett (Donahoe) has done a great job with their program. The last couple of years, we have not been competitive with them. Hopefully, we have gotten to the point where we can play four quarters and give them a good game."
Heritage Academy has won the last two meetings, 49-0 and 42-0. In 2011, the Raiders didn't have a first down or cross midfield until the fourth quarter in what turned out to be a winless season. Merchant arrived the next season and the tide eventually turned. Oak Hill Academy made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and had a winning regular season for the first time since 2005. Still, Heritage Academy dominated the line of scrimmage and had no difficulty in rolling to a victory in Columbus.
"Heritage Academy played with a tremendous amount of confidence and took us out of our game early," Merchant said. "That is the key (tonight). We need to stay motivated and we need to not get discouraged. Even when things don't go your way, you have to keep competing."
Oak Hill Academy (3-2) defeated Newton County Academy 26-20 last week. Dew Riley scored a pair of rushing touchdowns, as the Raiders amassed 322 yards of total offense.
The Mississippi Association of Independent Schools is using a strength of schedule component to help determine the Class A and Class AA playoff fields this year. A victory against Newton County was huge for Oak Hill. A game against the defending Class AAA, Division II state champions also carries significance.
"We have seven ranked opponents on our schedule for a reason," Merchant said. "This will help us a in a lot of ways at the end of the season."
Heritage Academy improved to 4-1 with a 33-0 win at Hillcrest Christian last week.
n In another game involving Clay County schools, Hebron Christian (2-2) plays at Delta Academy (4-1).
The Eagles had an open date last week. For Hebron Christian it is a final non-district game before cranking up MAIS Eight-Man District 1 action Oct. 4 at home against Strider Academy.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter