September 18, 2013 9:11:20 PM
Oak Hill Academy faces a ranked opponent Friday night when it faces Newton County Academy.
It is not like that is anything new for the Raiders. As it stands now, seven of 10 opponents this season are ranked.
"We have played three ranked opponents in our first five games," Oak Hill Academy coach Daniel Merchant said. "It has been a challenge but it has also allowed us to see what we are made of."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Decatur.
Oak Hill Academy enters the contest at 2-2 overall, thanks to last Friday's 20-15 Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AA, District 2 win over Winston Academy. In the victory, the Raiders rallied from down 15-0 to secure the victory.
"They came out and hit us with the triple-option," Merchant said. "We were not prepared for that. We were able to make some adjustments and they didn't score after the first quarter. On offense, we faced a few more blitzes that we had expected. It was a sign of maturity and that we stayed calm, made adjustments and found a way to win the game."
Through its first four games, the Raiders have knocked off Hartfield Academy and Winston Academy, while losing shootouts to highly-touted Tri-County Academy and Marshall Academy.
"Overall, I am pleased with where we are through four games," Merchant said. "You can always get better at blocking and tackling. That is what we have been working on in practice. A little extra work on the fundamentals never hurts. We have a chance to be a pretty good team if we keep improving each week."
In the win over Winston, Oak Hill finished with 285 yards of total offense, including 258 rushing yards on 54 carries.
Drew Riley had 17 rushes for 76 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown run. Samuel Harrell added 10 rushes for 49 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown run. Joseph Caskey had two rushes for 33 yards, including the game-winning touchdown and follow-up 2-point conversion. Drake Riley had 20 carries for 73 yards, while A.J. Iseley had three carries for 31 yards.
"We had some good, long drives," Merchant said. "We held the upper hand for most of the second half, even though we didn't win until a late score there at the end."
A member of District 3-1A, Newton County Academy is 3-1. The Generals opened with three straight wins, before falling 41-6 to Canton Academy last Friday.
"They are an I-formation team," Merchant said. "They are going to line up and try to run it down our throats. We just have to be disciplined and stay on our reads. Defensively, they play with a nine-man front. Those fronts have given us fits this year. So, we have worked hard in practice this week to try to make adjustments better against that type of defense. It will be a physical game and we will have to perform really well on both sides of the ball."
After going winless in 2011, Oak Hill Academy stopped that skid with a 13-6 in last season's meeting in West Point.
West Point (1-2) at Noxubee County (2-2)
West Point will be looking to get the offense kick-started again when it travels to Noxubee County for the final non-region game of the season.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday in Macon.
Last season, these two squads played one of the best games in the area, as the eventual Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A state champion Noxubee County took a 6-0 victory at West Point.
West Point coach Chris Chambless hopes to see more offense in the rematch.
"Noxubee County has an excellent tradition," Chambless said. "Even though they are young, you know you are going to see a well-coached team excited to play."
Last week, West Point's offense was stuck in neutral in the second half of a 41-14 home loss to Columbus. The Green Wave had entered that contest averaging 44 points per game. Lead back Aeris Williams was held to under 100 yards for the first time this season and only found the end zone once.
After two successful drives in the first half, West Point did not score in the game's final half.
"We struggled with consistency," Chambless said. "Sometimes, you have a big game (a 55-33 win over Starkville the week before) and then you struggle when you don't have the same kind of success. We got impatient and struggled to build long drives."
Despite the 1-2 start, West Point should still rebound and be a factor in the Region 1-5A race. Right away, the challenge will be supreme as the first region opponent is unbeaten Oxford on the road Sept. 27.
"It's all about consistency and working hard each week to get better," Chambless said.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter