DECATUR — The Oak Hill Academy football team said it believed in Daniel Merchant in the summer.
The Raiders said they believed in Merchant in the preseason.
On Friday, Oak Hill Academy made believers out of Newton County Academy.
Buoyed by a defense that forced six turnovers, Oak Hill Academy erased the memory of a winless 2011 with a 13-6 victory Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
“It was a team effort, that’s for sure,” said Merchant, a former coach at Nettleton High School and Immanuel Christian School. “We did it with defense. We definitely stepped up and made a lot of good plays.”
Drake Riley (10 carries, 42 yards) scored on a 10-yard run in the first quarter. Curt Huffman caught a 28-yard pass from Conner Baird with about a minute to go in the second quarter to give the Raiders all the points they needed. From there, the defense took control, Huffman had two interceptions and Blake Henley and Matthew Gwathney had one each. Riley also had two fumble recoveries.
Both of Oak Hill Academy’s scores came following turnovers.
“It was all smiles in the locker room,” Merchant said of the reaction after the game. “Now they know they really can win and it is going to carry over to next week and the rest of the season. They know they can win because they have already done it.”
On offense, Jeb Stevens had four carries for 35 yards, Drew Riley had seven carries for 51 yards, and Samuel Harrell had five carries for 15 yards. Baird was 1 of 4 for 28 yards.
On defense, Oak Hill Academy allowed a 90-yard touchdown pass on a busted coverage. Merchant also praised the play punter Paxton Trull, who averaged more than 40 yards a kick, including a 50-plus yarder in the fourth quarter to help the Raiders control the field.
John Waldrep and Gwathney each forced a fumble, Drew Riley had six solo and four assisted tackles, Drake Riley had four solo and seven assisted tackles, and Palmer White had four solo and one assisted tackle.
White had the tackle on a fourth-don play in the third quarter that stopped a Newton County Academy drive.
Stevens had three solo and two assisted tackles, Waldrep had four assisted tackles, Dakota O’Bryant had two assisted tackles, Cooper Orman had two solo tackles, and Joseph Caskey had one solo and one assisted tackle and a couple of knockdowns of the quarterback.
“The defensive backs had a lot of pass deflections,” Merchant said. “We had a good pass rush.”
Merchant said the key is for the Raiders not to get too pumped up because he said they have to stay humble. He feels the victory will motivate the team even more.
“They’re hungry and want some more and want to win,” Merchant said. “We want to hang our hat on defense and being hard-nosed and physical. They believed and played together. It was a team effort. They really stepped it up and showed we believe. You could tell we were in much better shape and we were the most physical team out on the field.”
n Clinton Christian Academy 68, Victory Christian School 42: At Pearl, The Eagles recovered after an early turnover cost them the momentum, but they failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities in dropping their season opener.
“It was back and forth and they got up a couple of scores on us and we never could recover,” Victory Christian coach Chris Hamm said. “They hit us right before the half and I felt like that changed the opportunity for us.”
Anthony Sharp scored on a 33-yard touchdown run for the opening score. The Victory Christian defense held, but Sharp fumbled on the next possession, which helped CCA take an 8-6 lead.
Austin Richardson caught a 22-yard pass from Bryer Bolton to give Victory Christian a 12-8 lead. James Myrick answered with a 60-yard run. The two-point play gave CCA a 16-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Trailing 24-12, Sharp scored on a 75-yard kick return. Bolton hit Richardson with a pass for the two-point conversion to make it 24-20.
Bolton then connected with his brother, Cody, on a 19-yard touchdown pass to make it 30-26. Clinton Christian scored twice more to push the lead to 46-26.
“They hit us a couple of long plays, a long run and a long pass before halftime,” Hamm said. “For the most part, we had opportunities to get off the field, or at least get them in fourth-down situation. We played pretty good for a couple of downs and then would give up the play. A couple of times in the second half we had them backed up behind the chains. … There were opportunities when we just didn’t sustain the effort or whatever and stop drives like we could have, and did have opportunities to.”
Bolton scored on a 17-yard run to cut the deficit to 46-34. Richardson caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from Bryer Bolton to make it 54-42.
Richardson had three catches for 61 yards. Cody Bolton had two catches for 23, and Sharp had four catches for 34 yards.
Bryer Bolton was 8 of 20 for 128 yards.
Sharp led the rushing attack with seven carries for 100 yards. Cody Bolton added 20 yards rushing.
On defense, Sean Meadows led the way with 11 solo tackles and an assisted tackle. Cody Bolton had eight solo tackles and an assisted tackle. Bo McCrary, Brandon Shaw, Michael Elliott, and Sharp each had five tackles. Burkley Jernigan had a fumble recovery.
Victory Christian will play host to Hebron Christian at 7 p.m. Friday.
n Calvary Christian 24, Central Academy 0: At Macon, Big plays were the nemesis for the Vikings in their season opener.
Calvary Christian scored on an 87-yard interception return and on touchdown passes of 90, 78, and 61 yards to spoil the debut of Bobby Bowman, the school’s first-year head coach.
Central Academy had a strong ground game in first half, with 115 rushing yards and 10 first downs. Two trips into red zone were unproductive.
Russ Taylor led offense with 61 yards rushing, while T. J. Coleman had 51 and Darrell Tate added 20 yards.
Take away the touchdowns and Central Academy’s defense played well, holding Calvary Christian to 59 yards total offense after them. Coleman led the defense with eight tackles and an interception. Taylor had six tackles, a sack, and fumble recovery. Steven Lane had a sack and a forced fumble, Colby Robbins and Tyler Cumberland had three tackles apiece.
Central Academy will play Friday at Calhoun Academy.
n Hebron Christian 20, Strider Academy 6: At Pheba, Taylor Coggins rushed for two scored, and Austin Foster added another as the Eagles gave first-year head coach David Foster his first victory.
Austin Foster scored on a 58-yard run in the second quarter. Coggins scored on runs of 25 and 17 yards in the third quarter to help Hebron Christian pull away.
“Our defense surprised me,” Hebron Christian coach David Foster. “I had a lot of guys I was hoping would step up and be leaders on the field and those individuals stepped up. Our coaching staff teaches our team to hit hard and they did exactly that.”
Coggins had 21 carries for 152 yards and a two-point conversion. Austin Foster had 11 carries for 121 yards, Will Corbin Rogers had seven carries for 17 yards, and Ryan Moore had four carries for 12 yards. Rogers was 2 of 2 for 29 yards. Moore had 27 yards receiving
“We need to execute better.” Foster said. “We play 8-on-8 normally, but we played 11-on-11 against Strider. We need to work on our center to quarterback exchange along with running backs receiving handoffs.”
On defense, Troy Arnold had seven tackles, Austin Foster had six tackles, Channing Tapley had six tackles, and Coggins, Moore, and Collin Moore each had five. Rogers added a 22-yard interception return.
n Smithville 21, Hamilton 12: At Smithville, Hamilton coach Ray Weeks didn’t have statistics from the game, but he said his Lions made too many mistakes in their season opener.
“We didn’t score when we had chances,” Weeks said. “We had the ball inside the 10-yard line and couldn’t punch it in. Our offense was working well, we just shot ourselves in the foot with turnovers.”
Weeks said Hamilton’s defense did a good job defending the option but it got beat in coverage, which led to touchdowns.
“We need to correct our mistakes and learn how to hold on to the ball,” Weeks said. “We had some young kids where this was their first game to be tested.”
n Starkville Academy 13, St. Andrew’s Episcopal 6: At Ridgeland, Drew Pellum and Michael Miller had touchdowns to help the Volunteers open the season with a victory.
Pellum scored on a 6-yard run in the first quarter, while Miller scored on a 3-yard run in the second quarter.
Miller had 15 carries for 68 yards, while Colby Runnels had 10 carries for 55 yards. Pellum added 45 yards passing. Runnels had three catches for 45 yards.
n In other action, Caledonia defeated Nettleton 50-7. Multiple phone calls seeking information from the game weren’t returned.