August 31, 2014 1:03:18 AM
WEST POINT -- Thanks to a huge lift from his quarterback, Marshall Academy coach Sam Pearson enjoyed quite a return to Clay County.
A 1980 graduate of Oak Hill Academy and a former head football coach at Hebron Christian School in Pheba, Pearson's return to the area was bolstered by a 304-yard, four-touchdown performance by senior quarterback Dakota Dailey in a 49-35 victory against Oak Hill Academy at Raider Field.
"It's always good to come back here, a place that has meant so much to me," said Pearson, who also has been a head football coach at Pickens Academy (Ala). "It seems like I've been associated with Oak Hill football in some fashion my whole life. This win means a lot because I know the people here, I know how hard they work. Historically, Oak Hill plays very well on this field, so to get a win feels really good."
Pearson, in his first year as Marshall Academy's head coach after a year as the Patriots' offensive coordinator, had reason to be excited after the teams combined for 968 yards.
"They're so well-coached," said Oak Hill Academy coach Tony Stanford, whose team fell to 1-1. "I'm proud of the effort. The effort was there. But we just couldn't tackle them tonight. Some of it was how outstanding they are athletically, but we still missed too many tackles."
A West Point native and a coaching veteran, Pearson's homecoming was aided by a tremendous performance from Dailey, a senior football and basketball standout. The 6-foot, 180-pound senior passed for 160 yards and rushed for 144. He rushed for scores from 22, 14 and 2 yards. He also scored on a 1-yard run.
"He plays football like he plays basketball," Pearson said. "He's a point guard on the basketball team. And any time an opposing player hits a shot or makes a big play against us, he always puts it on himself to come down and make a big play right back. That's the way he played tonight."
True to Pearson's word, Dailey and the Patriots always were one step ahead of Oak Hill Academy and had an answer every time the Raiders built momentum.
Marshall Academy built a 19-6 lead and appeared to be tacking on three more points right before the half on a 28-yard field goal attempt. But kicker Christian Compton's attempt came up short and allowed Oak Hill Academy sophomore Ken Dill to catch it and race uncontested down the home sideline for a 98-yard touchdown. The play, of which Pearson said, "That was one of a kind. I can't believe that happened," appeared to give Oak Hill Academy momentum entering the second half.
But, like they did all night, the Patriots responded thanks to Dailey, who led four second-half scoring drives.
"That kid was something special tonight," Stanford said of Dailey.
For Oak Hill Academy, senior quarterback Riley Pierce kept pace with Dailey through the air, passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored on a 1-yard run.
Pierce gave Oak Hill Academy its only lead midway through the third quarter on a 21-yard TD pass to Heath Ford. After eighth-grader Grayson Easterling added the first of his three extra points, Oak Hill Academy led 21-19.
That lead lasted 21 seconds, as Marshall Academy answered with a 64-yard touchdown by Jordon Harris.
"It's special to win here because I know how hard it is," Pearson said. "I know the coaches who run that weight room. I know what they do in the summer, in offseason workouts. I know how hard they work. To win this game, it says a lot about this team."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat
1. Woods officially takes over at Starkville High HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Cohen, Bulldogs look for answers after 2015 season COLLEGE SPORTS