Note: This sports recap appears in he Wednesday, Nov. 6 newspaper on Page B2.
OAK HILL — All season long, Oak Hill heard the talk of how it was playing way out of its league by entering the SOC II.
On its face, it may have seemed like a bold decision but the Oaks showed it can hang and put itself in a position to clinch a playoff spot on Friday.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be as they ran into a buzzsaw named Payton Shoemaker, who eclipsed the 2,000 yard mark and scored three times as Waverly ended Oak Hill’s season with a 27-14 final at Davis Stadium.
“Waverly is a really good football team, and they’ll host a playoff game but we hung right there with them,” Oak Hill coach Paul Carver said. “Our kids played fairly well, but a couple turnovers at the wrong time set us back and Waverly took advantage of it. But I’m proud of the fight we showed.”
After Waverly stuffed Oak Hill on fourth down, the Tigers went over the top as Haydn’ Shanks found Will Futhey for a 34-yard pass down to the redzone. Shoemaker capped off the five-play, 49-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.
On the next drive, Oak Hill forced Waverly to punt. But after dropping the snap, Grayson Diener took over running and managed to get the first down to keep the drive going.
A few plays later, Shanks found Penn Morrison for the 22-yard touchdown pass that pushed the lead up to 13-0.
However, Oak Hill weathered the early and provided an answer with a long 15-play, 80-yard drive including converting a couple fourth downs. On 4th-and-1 from the one-yard line, Keaton Potter punched in the endzone and cut the lead to 13-7.
With its offense having some confidence after scoring, it was the Oaks’ defense time to make a stop. They did one better as A.J. Harrison intercepted Shanks’ pass and returned it to the 22 yard line.
“Our defense has gotten so much better over the course of the season,” Carver said. “Shanks had only thrown one interception all season and we picked him off twice, which is a huge plus for us.”
Oak Hill was in position to capitalize, but fumbled. Yet despite the Oaks coming up with the ball, the referees ruled it Waverly ball.
Shoemaker scored from seven yards out, making it 19-7 after a failed two-point try into halftime.
“We didn’t change anything going into halftime,” Carver said. “Even with a couple things not going our way, we still felt pretty good about where were at.”
After a scoreless third quarter, Oak Hill cut the lead down to 19-14 when Triston Diltz found paydirt from one-yard out, capping off an even more impressive 19-play, 80-yard drive.
“I believe that put Triston over 1,000 rushing yards for the season, which is a great accomplishment,” Carver said. “Part of our system is that our running backs do a lot of blocking and for him to eclipse that mark is great for our program and for him.”
But the Oaks couldn’t get that one extra stop and a few minutes later, Shoemaker delivered the knockout punch, scoring from seven yards out to ultimately close the door on the Oaks’ season.
Carver’s first season was full of ups and downs, ranging from a shutout loss against Wheelersburg to upsetting Minford and putting the Oaks in playoff contention.
But for eight seniors, including Diltz, the journey as an Oak has come to an end.
“These seniors have been such incredible leaders and I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done,” Carver said. “Some people were trying to get us to move to the TVC and these guys proved that they can play in a tough division. They worked so hard, got themselves in better shape and it showed on the field.
“I’ve known these seniors since I started coaching junior high back in 2013. This guys are the first group I had when I started and it’s fitting that they’re the first group I have as head varsity coach. I have a close relationship with them and they’re a special group to me.”