Caskey, Cullum, defense lead Raiders in opener


Adam Minichino



WEST POINT -- Jonah Caskey and Ash Cullum know they don't have blazing speed. 


But the junior running back and senior quarterback make up for what they might lack in one area with persistence and shiftiness that help them make the Oak Hill Academy football team go. 


Caskey and Cullum showcased their skills in equal parts Friday night by rushing for touchdowns in a 21-0 victory against Deer Creek School in the season opener for both teams. 


"In the first half, with what they were doing and what we planned to do, they were playing us very good," Oak Hill Academy coach Chris Craven said. "Our offensive adjustments weren't being executed because it is not what we practice the most. We just went in and said, 'We're going to do this, and we're going to get them out of their comfort zone.' " 


Caskey opened the scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run. Cullum added a 31-yard scoring scamper in the third quarter to help send the Raiders on their way following a scoreless first half. 


Oak Hill Academy players and coaches could be heard on the sideline encouraging Caskey, who is listed at 5-foot-11, 158 pounds, to "run downhill." He said he usually runs like that but sometimes he needs a "wake-up call" to do it. Against Deer Creek, that motivation might have come from Craven, who helped his players re-focus with a halftime talk. 


"My confidence gained. I just wanted to hit the hole hard with no fear," said Caskey, who started playing running back midway through the 2017 season. Prior to that, he started on defense. 


The adjustments at intermission included Cullum asking Craven if Oak Hill Academy could spread Deer Creek out and throw the ball more. Deer Creek kept Oak Hill Academy off balance in the first half with a blitzing scheme that sent players from every direction. The Raiders compensated by holding fullback Ethan Bryan in to block, but they still only rushed for 41 yards on 20 carries in the first half. 


Cullum only completed two passes in the second half, but his passes to Manning Huffman and Daniel Harrington created space he used to maneuver in en route to his 31-yard scoring run. 


Cullum said his running style is definitely "one of a kind." He said it took a few plays for the Raiders to adjust, but he said they learned to take what they were being given as the game progressed. 


"I just kept pounding and kept pounding and we finally broke one loose," Cullum said. "When we dragged the linebackers out, it opened up the middle." 


Like Caskey, Cullum said he isn't the fastest player, but he said he reads his blocks and takes what is there. On his touchdown run, he weaved in and out of traffic and then sprinted toward the goal line. He said "3 yards at a time" is all he needs, so he isn't going to try to do too much.  


Craven said he saw flashes of Cullum's "shiftiness" against Pickens Academy last week in a jamboree. He said "somehow or another" Cullum finds green grass, which means he is going to get his number called on designed runs. 


On the ensuing kickoff, Oak Hill Academy kicker Grayson Easterling prevented Cade Lackey from going 95 yards for a touchdown. Lackey tried to elude Easterling by veering to the left at midfield, but Easterling closed the gap and caught Lackey. Easterling hung on and contributed to Lackey being called for a facemask penalty as he tried to shake him off. Instead of Deer Creek having the football at the 24-yard line, it was pushed back to the 39. Five plays later, including two Deer Creek penalties, Coggins' second interception ended the threat. 


Oak Hill Academy also held Pickens Academy scoreless in two quarters in a jamboree. Craven credited new defensive coordinator Bill Rosenthal and his son, Tyler, for helping make the defense so effective. 


"The defense is playing its heart out," Craven said. "Our kids study film and study their notes." 


Collin Coggins' 65-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter accounted for the scoring. Coggins also had two of Oak Hill Academy's four interceptions. 


Lucas Birmingham and Jake Makamson also had interceptions for the Raiders. Unfortunately, Oak Hill Academy appeared to lose junior running back / defensive end Archie Miller to a leg injury in the second half. The game had to be stopped while an ambulance came onto the field to take Miller off. 


The game started an hour late due to lightning in the area. 


The shutout marks the second week in a row the Raiders will have a "Barbecue Wednesday." Dot's BBQ in West Point will supply the food. 


"I told them I am starting to like barbecue," Craven said. 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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