Raiders slog through weather, shut out Warriors in opener

Oak Hill quarterback Ash Cullum evades Deer Creek defenders on Friday night.
Staff Writer

The rain came down hard in West Point for the first half of the season opener for the Oak Hill Academy Raiders as they faced the visiting Deer Creek School Warriors on Friday night.

Despite a first half slugfest where holding on to a wet football proved difficult for both squads, the Raiders, led by fourth-year head coach Chris Craven, came out with a 21-0 victory to open the 2018 season.

While the Raiders got tough running out of the backfield by senior fullback Ethan Bryan and junior tailback Jonah Caskey, no points were put up in the first half of action as both teams struggled in the elements.

Raider quarterback Ash Cullum, a senior who threw the ball around with promise during the Raiders’ jamboree last week, saw his second pass of the game intercepted by Preston Wicker. However, the Warriors would fail to capitalize and go three and out on the following drive.

Craven’s defense would hold strong again when junior defensive back Collin Coggins intercepted a Warrior pass and returned it deep into Warrior territory. Despite the good field position, the offense stalled and Grayson Easterling’s long 43-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left to keep the score at 0-0 midway through the second quarter.

Although Easterling missed two long field goal attempts, he would finish the night 3-for3 on extra point attempts.

Both teams would go into the locker rooms scoreless at the half, but coming out of the gate to start the third quarter, senior defensive back Lucas Birmingham picked off a Warrior pass that ultimately set up a three-yard touchdown run by Caskey to give the Raiders their first score of the 2018 campaign.

Later in the third quarter, the Raiders saw momentum swing even more in their favor when Cullum made a couple of quick cuts with his feet on his way to a 31- yard touchdown scamper to extend the Raider’s lead to two scores.

“I feel a lot better now,” Cullum said after the victory. “The first half was a little rough, they were piling it in and blitzing on us, and I didn’t have time to throw and once we spread it out I slung it around a little bit and that forced them to spread out.”

Deer Creek would show a flash of promise on the next drive with a long kick return to the Oak Hill 25, but a face mask penalty on the return and a couple of penalties on the following offensive series saw them back up to midfield and stalled once again.

After the first minute in the final frame of the game, Coggins came up with his second interception of the night, which saw the Raider bench and fans come alive once the rain stopped.

However, the attitude switched from celebratory to somber when junior defensive lineman Archie Miller went down with a serious leg injury in the fourth quarter. But Miller gave a fist pump once on the stretcher despite being in obvious pain.

As the seconds ticked away late in the game, Coggins would show that he wasn’t finished blowing up the stat sheet. With a little under three minutes left in the game, Coggins fielded a punt on the Oak Hill 38 yard line and returned it for a touchdown to seal the deal for the Raiders and boost their lead to 21-0.

“I just wanted to help the team and just do what I’ve got to do,” the junior said following the game when asked about his big night on defense and special teams.

The Warriors attempted to moved the ball in the waning seconds, but Jake Makamson would grab the Raiders’ fourth interception of the night to close the door on the visiting squad.

Despite it being the first game of the 2018 season, Cullum said they worked the nerves out during the jamboree and came ready to play against Deer Creek.

“We got our scrimmage jitters out last week but nothing compared to playing at home in front of all your fans and all your family, maybe in the first game at home it’s still nerve wracking,” he said. “It didn’t look good tonight because of the rain and wet ball so we adjusted our game plan.”

Craven bragged on his defense and the physical game they played to pitch their second straight shutout in 2018, after they also refused to allow points in their jamboree victory.

“Defense played a heck of a ballgame, shut them out,” Craven said. “They did a phenomenal job, defensive coaches did a great job getting them ready. We spent a lot of time studying, even our players do, and that’s really what it comes down to for defense. Physical tackling, getting after it flying to the ball. We didn’t have a lot of solo tackles tonight.”

When asked how he would get his team ready for Week 2, he said they will just “do the same thing.”

“You don’t change it,” Craven said. “We’re going to celebrate our victory tonight and after tonight, we’re going to remain humble in our successes and put our good foot forward and just get back on the grind and work it all over again for the next team.”

The Oak Hill Academy Raiders (1-0) will travel to Decatur next week for a road match against Newton County Academy (0-1).