WEST POINT — Chris Craven always has preferred to look at execution before he examines the numbers.
The Oak Hill Academy football coach’s philosophy has revolved around the fact that it doesn’t matter how many players you have on your sideline because only 11 can play at the same time. That’s why the Raiders have prided themselves on their ability to work together despite not having the depth of nearly all of their opponents.
You only will need to look at both sidelines at 7 tonight to see how important that point will be when Oak Hill Academy (6-2) plays host to Leake Academy (5-3) in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools matchup.
While injuries have cut the Raiders’ roster to 12 high school players (middle school players and freshmen not included), the Rebels figure to come to West Point with more than 40 high school players. Leake Academy’s roster on maxpreps.com has 52 players (one is listed twice). Forty-two of those players are sophomores-seniors.
But Oak Hill Academy showed last week what 13 players can do when they are all in sync. Collins Brown rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns, while Macon McBrayer rushed for 116 yards and three touchdowns in a 61-13 victory against Carroll Academy in a MAIS Class A-AA, District 2 game. The 61 points are the most the Raiders have scored in a game dating back through the 1994 season.
“We just go out and try to execute,” Craven said. “We do everything we can to base our playing on details and what am I supposed to do. When everybody does that together, good things happen.”
Leake Academy, which is in MAIS Class AAA, District 2, figures to present a bigger challenge, but Craven isn’t worried about how his players will respond to the opportunity to bolster their playoff chances with additional power points. Craven likes his team’s chances because senior Kaleb Darnell is back at quarterback. Darnell has taken over for John Carver Middleton, the third-string quarterback, who took over after starter Ken Dill was injured against Heritage Academy. He also likes how Brown and McBrayer have adjusted after losing senior running back / linebacker Drew Riley. Brown has had to move to tailback and has emerged as a consistent contributor.
“It has been some work for him, as far as learning wise,” Craven said. “He has worked hard at that because our tailback is also going to be a slot receiver. That is something he wasn’t used to.”
With a regular-season game remaining against Deer Creek School, Oak Hill Academy figures to finish second in Class A-AA, District 2 behind Winona Christian. All six of the district winners will receive automatic playoff berths, while the teams that finish seventh though 16th in the power points standings will advance. Craven doesn’t know who — if anybody — might be ready to come back for the postseason, but it really doesn’t matter because he and the Raiders have shown this season they can overcome with limited numbers. When you have gotten used to playing with 12 or 13 players, the addition of one or two healthy players for the playoffs would make a huge difference.
“The roles keep shifting,” Craven said. “It is really amazing to me that hey have such a close bond that they are able to keep it all together. This guy is quarterback now, so you’re going to play slot. He has to come out and you’re going to go to quarterback and you’re going to play slot and you’re moving to tailback and you’re fixing to be the starting fullback.”
“It really has amazed me that they have kept it together. I think a lot of it has to do with they have such a close bond. We try to keep things simple. It makes me wonder what it would be like if the same people were doing it, but, at the same time, look at the team we have and all of the work that has went into it and the constant learning of new positions. … I am very proud of Collins and the other players to adapt, adjust, and learn on the fly.”
Craven said the bond his players share has boosted their confidence because everyone knows they have to support the other 11. Sometimes he feels like tipping his hat to the players because so many of the Raiders play and entire ballgame every week. He said it is a credit to the Raiders that they have been able to stay strong mentally and to connect their mind and their hearts has enabled them not to let the player down beside them.
“There is one thing out there that is more important than winning. I am not going to let you (pointing to the right) and I am not going to let you (pointing to the left) down,” Craven said. “I think they have come together with that type of bond and it has given them a lot of drive to compete and to finish. Whether we are playing good or we’re playing bad, we are still out there trying. I think that is just about all you can ask and expect, for them to do their best as a team. They have really showed that. It is very selfless.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.