September 11, 2017 10:00:00 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
WEST POINT -- There's no way to gauge the impact of a crunching hit on defense.
It's safe to say, though, anytime the crowd goes "oooh" in response to a textbook form tackle that the defensive team is going to get pumped up.
Ethan Bryan had no way of knowing he was going to make that tackle after moving from defensive end to linebacker. But Bryan was in position to stuff a Winona Christian running play on second down inside the 5-yard line in the second quarter and to drive the running back to the ground.
"He lit that boy up," Oak Hill Academy coach Chris Craven said. "I don't say things like very often, but it was a one-on-one, technique, form tackle and that guy went flat on his back fast."
The Raiders felt the charge from Bryan's hit go through the home stands and gave them the lift they needed.
On the next play, Dylan Scott had an interception at the goal line and returned the football 56 yards to set the Raiders up for their first score.
Three plays later, John Carver Middleton (6-for-12, 76 yards) connected with Daniel Harrington, who broke several tackles, for the game's first score.
The momentum from Bryan's defensive play -- and plenty of others by the Raiders -- and Middleton's touchdown pass sparked Oak Hill Academy to a 14-0 victory against Winona Christian Academy on Friday night in a key Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AA, District 1 matchup.
For their efforts, Middleton and Bryan are The Dispatch's Prep Players of the Week.
Riley Tate added a 76-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter to help Oak Hill Academy improve to 2-1, 1-0.
"We shut them down completely," Bryan said. "They didn't have anything to come back with (in the second half). We performed just like I thought we would throughout the whole game.
"They weren't expecting us to be that physical and to have that much heart to want to win," Bryan said. "We just wanted it more than they did."
Oak Hill Academy will try to build on that momentum at 7 p.m. Friday when it travels to Carroll Academy (1-1, 0-0) for another district matchup.
Timely defense played an integral role in the shutout. Oak Hill Academy forced four turnovers on downs, including two inside the 20-yard line. In addition to two fumble recoveries and Scott's interception, Oak Hill Academy broke up a Hail Mary heave to the end zone at the end of the first half.
While Craven said Bryan's hit provided a spark, he also credited Scott for being disciplined and staying with the tight end, who went in and tried to sneak out the back. Craven said Scott initially was on a receiver who went in motion. He said Scott could have done a lot of things watching what the Stars were doing, but he said he went to the next receiver inside and stuck to his rules.
Craven also praised the work of coaches Carl Middleton and Cody Allen for preparing the Raiders. He said the coaches and players take pride in watching film and knowing as much about their opponent as they can.
John Carver Middleton, who plays strong safety/outside linebacker, and Bryan said some of the Stars asked the Raiders if they knew all of their team's plays because they were so effective on defense.
The defense was even tougher in the second half, as Oak Hill Academy limited Winona Christian to three first downs and 76 yards.
"It was huge for us being a big district game and us thinking they were going to be a big contender for the district," Middleton said. "Getting this win really boosts our confidence. We came together and everybody played and we played as a team. The defense was great. The offense was good. We still have to work on a few things to get rolling, but I was really impressed with how we played."
Middleton was most impressed with how Bryan "blew up" a lead play on second down. Bryan had an opportunity to make that play from linebacker after replacing a teammate who left the game. He said he hadn't played linebacker this season but he played the position last season.
Bryan, who played the remainder of the game at linebacker, hoped his tackle would provide a spark. It turns out Middleton said the Raiders had plays like that all night that kept their energy level and confidence high.
The hope is the physical play, key defensive stops, and team effort validate the new mind-set the Raiders talked about in the preseason.
Craven said preparation, effort, and togetherness came together Friday night in a special performance he feels could be a building block for the rest of the season.
"I was confident in the boys playing their best," Craven said. "Fourteen-to-nothing isn't a very big lead, but the defense stood tall and they played hard. We are still trying to get kinks worked out in the offense. We executed some things better but not the way I like them to be.
"We're getting better. I wouldn't' say we're good or great, but we're getting better each week."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.