September 2, 2018 12:50:53 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
WEST POINT -- You could sense the determination every time Ethan Bryan pumped his legs.
The Oak Hill Academy senior running stood a Tunica Academy tackler up inside the 5-yard line and kept driving for the goal line. His push for the Raiders' first score of the evening ended 1 yard short of pay dirt.
Bryan's effort epitomized a second half surge that resulted in a 14-point fourth quarter that wasn't enough to avoid a 30-14 loss to Tunica Academy in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) matchup.
"It's a big lesson when somebody just as good as you comes on the football field and plays the way you play, physical and tough," Bryan said. "It is a good lesson for us to stay mentally good and to keep running our plays, but the worst thing you can do on a football field is mentally go ill and screw up everything you do."
Bryan said that happened quite a bit in the first half, as Oak Hill Academy (2-1) fell behind 22-0 at halftime and 30-0 after the first possession of the third quarter. The Raiders entered the game with their defense not having allowed a touchdown. Tunica Academy's second score came on a 20-yard interception return.
Bryan said the Raiders came up short because they didn't execute how they wanted to and they let their frustrations take them out of their game plan. Bryan said he and his teammates will take the loss as a "wake-up call" that the classification of the opponent doesn't matter -- Tunica Academy is a MAIS Class A school, while Oak Hill Academy is a Class AA school -- because the Raiders have to play their brand of football for four quarters.
"It's definitely a game that humbled us back down to where we were at the beginning of the season, right back to being underdogs," Bryan said. "I am fine with that. ... I like being the underdog and proving everybody wrong."
Junior lineman Jaden Craven said focus and mind-set are two lessons the Raiders will take from the game. He said Oak Hill Academy was intimidated by the size of some of Tunica Academy's players, which he said affected the team's ability to execute.
"We were wanting to play like patty-cake there with them at the very beginning," Craven said. "They just ran it down our throats and we couldn't do anything about it. They were hitting us, but we wanted to receive. We weren't hitting like we were supposed to."
Oak Hill Academy also didn't catch any breaks. It played without injured senior lineman Robert Thompson and didn't have junior lineman Tyler Oswalt for big stretches of the game. On top of that, an inadvertent whistle by the referee on a big run by quarterback Ash Cullum down to 1-yard line wiped out what could have been the Raiders' first score just before halftime.
In the fourth quarter, Cullum had an 8-yard scoring pass to Manning Huffman and a 34-yard scoring strike to Cameron Dill. Both scores were too late to alter a first half that left Jaden Craven wishing the Raiders had a mulligan.
"As a team we were scared," Craven said. "We were a whole lot stronger than them. Their kids were just bigger than us and it scared us. ... What we have to take in and throughout the whole year is we can't be scared. It is all a mind game. We have the strength. We are a smaller-sized team, but we just have to play to our advantages."
Oak Hill Academy coach Chris Craven encouraged the players to "live in the present" in his past-game speech. He, too, acknowledged the Raiders weren't their sharpest in the first half. He said things looked better in the second half, including segments in the fourth quarter after the Blue Devils (3-0) had substituted for some of their starters.
"Most of us had no idea what was going on. We didn't think this was going to happen," Bryan said. "We went in there at halftime and got everything re-focused up and got mentally healthy and came back out and executed."
Still, coach Craven said he would have liked to have seen what would have happened if the Raiders didn't come out "flat" and played the whole game like they did the final two quarters.
"We didn't come out in the first half and play our best football," Craven said. "We had a good practice week. We played a good team. We knew they were a good team. They had some size and they were physical, but that is kind of what we try to be our wheelhouse, but you have to come out and play."
Oak Hill Academy will need to live in the present because it will practice at 8 a.m. Monday to begin preparations for its game against Winona Christian Academy at 7 p.m. Friday in Winona. The game will kick off Class AA, Region 1 play.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.