PHEBA — You don”t often see quarterbacks receiving punts or kicks.
But Oak Hill Academy football coach Leroy Gregg doesn”t have the same luxuries as most coaches in the state of Mississippi.
But the other coaches also don”t have a player who is as versatile as Jeb Stevens.
The sophomore showed Friday night he can do a little bit of everything, returning a punt for a score, throwing a touchdown, and catching another pass that led to a touchdown to lead Oak Hill Academy to a 46-12 victory against Hebron Christian.
Stevens, a 5-foot-10, 155-pounder, threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Conner Baird, returned a punt 35 yards in the second quarter, and caught a 46-yard pass from Baird and then recovered his fumble for another score to help the Raiders improve to 1-4.
“When you only have 18 on the team you have to put your best people in positions and you cannot worry what is going to go on during the game,” Gregg said of having Stevens back returning punts. “We have a couple of quarterbacks who have the ability (to do a lot of things). It is a luxury to have two you can trust to run it and throw it when you have 18 kids.”
Stevens played quarterback for the first time last season when Baird was injured. He said he went to a quarterback camp at Millsaps College in the offseason to help him prepare for the 2010 season because he knew he would be asked to step up.
Stevens didn”t disappoint in helping the Raiders get their first victory. In the process, they scored their most points in a game since a 49-12 victory against Starkville Academy on Nov. 3, 2006. Oak Hill Academy went 7-3 in the regular season that year and lost to Lamar School in the first round of the Class AAA Division II playoffs.
Stevens hopes he can help the Raiders get back to the postseason this year, too. He said he is willing to do anything it takes to accomplish that goal.
“It felt like our offense was flowing really well,” Stevens said. “The worst thing was my kicking.”
Stevens said he hurt his ankle during the game but that it didn”t hurt his when he ran, which he showed early and often Friday night.
Stevens had plenty of help in that area. Chance Livingston came on late in the second half and scored on a 68-yard run. The score was part of a team-leading 118-yard rushing effort. Doss Miller (117 yards) and Bo Sanford (115 yards, two touchdowns) also eclipsed the 100-yard mark as the Raiders gained 383 rushing yards. They would have had more than 400 if not for three consecutive 6-yard losses when Baird took a knee on the final possession.
While the rushing performance was impressive, Stevens said a highlight for him was the punt return for a touchdown. He said the Raiders had a blocking scheme set up for that situation, which came about when the punter rolled to his right to kick the ball. Stevens fielded the ball and then wasn”t touched en route to his first clean return for a score. He said he had a punt blocked earlier in his career, recovered it, and then returned it for a score.
Stevens also enjoyed the long run off the pass from Baird. He had to hold up a few seconds to wait for Baird”s pass and then outran defenders to the corner of the end zone before falling on his fumble for a touchdown.
Gregg said Stevens” play helps set the tone for a team that needs all hands on deck. He said it isn”t hard for him to imagine a sophomore is one of the team leaders.
“He shows a lot of leadership skills and isn”t afraid to express his opinion to the older kids,” Gregg said. “He doesn”t mind calling on other people to do their jobs.”
Gregg said he saw that attitude in Stevens in the spring and is happy Stevens has accepted the role and is setting the example for everyone to follow.
Hebron Christian (1-4) used a 1-yard touchdown run by Chad Smith and a 25-yard pass from Smith to Taylor Coggins to make it 20-12 with 2 minutes, 29 seconds to play before halftime. The Eagles used a mix-and-match running game led by Marquez Robinson (13 carries, 83 yards) and Jaw Shaw to keep the Raiders off balance.
“We probably played as good as we have all year in the first half,” Hebron Christian coach Greg Watkins said. “We saw some execution, we saw some hustle, and we saw some discipline.”
But Oak Hill Academy adjusted in the second half to take away Robinson”s runs to the edge. They also bottled up the Eagles” shifts in the middle to keep them bottled up. As a result, Hebron Christian struggled to execute, which led to frustration and an unsportsmanlike penalty that Watkins didn”t enjoy. He credited Oak Hill Academy for making the changes that slowed his team.
“We”re going to have to work from it and learn from what we did in the second half,” Watkins said. “If we can put two halves together I feel good about our chances.”
Oak Hill Academy will play host to Carroll Academy next week, while Hebron Christian will have the week off.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.