Running game pushes Raiders to 2-0 start


Chris Craven

Chris Craven


Adam Minichino



WEST POINT -- "Run Da Ball" is a perfect Ditkaism. 


For football neophytes, a "Ditkaism" refers to a saying by former NFL player and coach Mike Ditka, who coached the Chicago Bears to the 1986 Super Bowl title. The former tight end, who earned the nickname "Iron Mike," gained added fame after a series of skits on "Saturday Night Live" dealing with avid Bears fans brought attention to Ditka's speech patterns and wardrobe choices, among other things. 


Chris Craven doesn't sound anything like Ditka. The Oak Hill Academy football coach also played the sport and he has facial hair like Ditka, but those might be the biggest similarities between the men. 


If the Raiders continue to play like they have in their first two games, Craven might start to resemble the former Bears coach a little more. 


Buoyed by another strong defensive effort, Oak Hill Academy improved to 2-0 with a 9-7 victory against Newton County Academy on Friday. Oak Hill Academy will look to improve to 3-0 for the first time in more than 24 years at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to Tunica Academy. 


"As a team, we want to hang our hat on being a very sound defense," Craven said. "If they can't score, the offense has a chance. ... To be able to move the ball against a bigger, physical team speaks well of our offensive line, and the grit of our team." 


Craven said senior fullback Ethan Bryan blocked well and junior Dalton Wilemon stepped in and ran the ball well to complement Jonah Caskey. The starting offensive line of Alex Powell, Jaden Craven, Kindrick Langford, Robert Thompson, and Kip Alpe set the tone for the ground attack to click. 


Oak Hill Academy started 2-0 in 2015 en route to a seven-win season. The Raiders also won their first two games in 2012, 2006, and 1999, but they haven't won their first three since at least through the 1994 season, which is far back as The Dispatch has game-by-game results in its archives. 


The latest victory avenged a 27-21 loss to Newton County Academy last season in West Point. Caskey's 14-yard run and the kick by Grayson Easterling and a safety off a blocked punt that caromed out of the end zone accounted for the Raiders' points. Newton County Academy scored its points on a fumble return for a touchdown. The turnover was one of two in the zone by the Raiders. 


"They only had three first downs in the second half and none in the first half," Craven said. "The defense still played a heck of a game. It was every bit of the physical game we thought it was going to be. They were big, and their subs were big. We just had to get after it." 


Oak Hill Academy held Pickens Academy scoreless in two quarters in a scrimmage. It shut out Deer Creek School in its season opener. The Raiders reached this point thanks to junior Jaden Craven, who is the son of Chris Craven. Coach Craven said Jaden wrote "Run Da Ball" with black marker on the dry erase board to the left of his desk in the team's field house. The words were still on the board Monday afternoon as coach Craven recounted a performance that saw multiple players have to switch positions due to injuries during the game. He credited junior lineman Tyler Oswalt for playing nearly the entire game after battling sickness earlier in the week. He also praised the efforts of Easterling, whose punting helped flip field position and helped position the Raiders for the blocked punt by Jake Makamson that ultimately proved to be the difference. 


Craven said the Raiders are still working out the kinks in their passing game with senior quarterback Ash Cullum. He feels confident Cullum, who has been the backup for the past two years, will be able to find his rhythm to balance a ground game that enabled the Raiders to hold nearly a 3-to-1 edge in plays last week. 


Craven agreed to run the football because that is what he likes to do. Despite playing multiple guys both ways, Craven said the Raiders stuck to their game plan and overcame a lack of experience when players had to move into new positions. He said the tenacity, perseverance, and heart all of his players showed is something the program can build on. 


"I was so proud of the next-man-up mentality," Craven said. "The knowledge level was slipping on all of the plays on the play sheet (due to the position changes after injuries). There was a lot of heart and effort to hold on and win the game." 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor 



Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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