Improvement Expected As Blue Devils Head To Independence
By Reid Bankston
WATER VALLEY – With a victory at Coffeeville to open the season, Water Valley looked to start a successful home campaign against Holly Springs, a team the Blue Devils lost 21-14 a year ago. However, it was the visitors who took the initiative in this encounter, as Holly Springs, led by senior standout Darryl Kinkle, punished Water Valley with numerous big plays enroute to a dominating 31-0 victory.
While Holly Springs looked more threatening throughout the night, it was the Water Valley defense that once again rose to the occasion to open the game. As was the case in last week’s matchup against Coffeeville, the Blue Devil defense set out in search for early turnovers.
On Holly Springs’ opening possession, the Blue Devil defense, through a fumble recovery by Marrico Hayes, forced a Hawks turnover on their own 33. However, the Water Valley offense, which suffered a night of futility, failed to capitalize, as the Blue Devils failed to convert on a fourth down attempt, netting just one yard during the possession.
Holly Springs’ next possession was equally as short as the first, but the results were drastically different. The Hawks struck big as Kinkle broke free for a 61 yard touchdown reception, putting Holly Springs ahead 6-0. Neither Kinkle nor Holly Springs were done for the night though, as an over matched Blue Devil offense failed to sustain any momentum throughout the half.
“They were much more physical than us, we have to get more physical up front, said Water Valley coach Brad Embry. “We have a little work to do in the weight room and it showed tonight.”
After an incomplete pass by junior quarterback Leo Daniels granted Holly Springs a chance to pull further ahead, the Blue Devil defense, led by the play of senior leader J.J. Woodard and sophomore J.D. Fondon, held strong, coming up with a crucial stop on fourth down at the Water Valley 27.
On the next possession for head coach Cliff Brown’s Holly Springs offense, the Hawks again looked set to increase their lead, as a 40-yard reception set Brown’s offense inside the Water Valley 20. But as the previous possession suggested, the Blue Devil defense would bend, but not break.
This time around, it was Fondon that forced Holly Springs back, stopping the Hawk’s running back in the backfield for a four-yard loss on a third and one. The threat was soon averted as the ensuing field goal was missed, giving Water Valley possession inside their own 15.
“The effort and intensity was there, but we have to learn to be more mentally tough and play the next play,” said defensive coordinator Richard Russo.
After yet another three and out for the Water Valley offense, Kinkle struck again. This time, it came by way of an electrifying 42-yard punt return to put Holly Spring up 12-0 with 3:31 left in the second quarter.
“He (Kinkle) does that about every game,” said Embry. “We tried to kick away from him, but he got his hands on a couple and he’s good, very good.”
Neither Holly Springs or Water Valley took advantage of their last possession of the first half, as the Hawks’ took a twelve point advantage into the locker room.
Although a big hit by junior running back/safety D.C. Logan provided the Water Valley sideline with a much needed boost of energy just before the half, the third quarter saw no change in Holly Springs’ dominance.
Little was provided from either team on offense, as Water Valley continued their string of three and outs, and the Blue Devil defense continued to hold strong.
However, with just 3:23 remaining in the third quarter Kinkle expanded the Holly Springs lead to 18-0, taking a 56 -yard pass for his third touchdown of the night.
After a dominate Holly Springs defense stalled the Water Valley offense yet again, Kinkle capped off his night, returning junior Josh Johnson’s punt 55 yards for his final touchdown of the night, pushing the Hawks ahead 25-0 with 3:13 in the third.
Sophomore running back Torrey Horton came up with Water Valley’s biggest play of the night with a 59-yard run, setting up the Blue Devils inside the Holly Springs 15. Unfortunately for Embry and his Blue Devils, this possession was again failed, as Daniels was sacked on fourth down.
As Russo experimented with personnel on defense, Holly Springs capped off the night with their final touchdown, condemning Water Valley to a devastating 31-0 defeat.
Although the Blue Devil offense could only muster 110 yards against Holly Springs, a drastically different performance from the season opener at Coffeeville, Embry knows improvement is possible.
“We don’t have a choice, we have to get better at what we do,” said Embry. “We’ll watch film and evaluate personnel and see where we can improve.”
Daniels, who completed just one of five pass attempts in the season opener, was just three-for-eighteen for 31 yards with an interception against Holly Springs. The running game also struggled equally, as Logan and Horton, a dominating duo at Coffeeville, accounted for only 97 yards on 19 carries.
“We know we have to throw the ball a little more,” said Embry. “The way they lined up on defense basically said we weren’t going to run it. They were putting eight, sometimes nine, in the box telling us to throw the ball. That’s what we tried to do, but obviously we didn’t do a very good job of it, passing or running.”
Defensively, Russo believes his unit was only a couple of missed plays away from painting an entirely different picture of this game.
“Our starting defense only gave up 12 points, and those two plays came when we missed tackles,” said Russo. “I don’t mean to take anything away from him (Kinkle). He’ll be playing college football next year. He’s a great player and he worked hard for his four touchdowns.”
Looking to Bounce Back
Water Valley will take the road once again this Friday, as the Blue Devils travel to Independence. The Wildcats demolished the Blue Devils 53-12 in 2007, the third most points given up in school history.
“I would remember that knot on my head from last year,” said Russo. “They ran up the score when they didn’t have too, so the kids should be self motivated.”
Like Water Valley, Independence’s first two games produced mixed results. The Wildcats beat Coldwater 46-0 in their season opener, before losing at Southaven 35-15.
While the Water Valley coaching staff doesn’t expect to see the amount of different schemes from Independence as they did from Holly Springs, Russo expects another tough test for his rapidly improving defense.
Although the defensive output from the Blue Devils against Holly Springs was not matched from the offense, Daniels, Logan, and Horton will look to recapture their offensive productivity from their rivalry win against Coffeeville.
“We’ve preached that we’re a family, and at some points in the season, it’ll be the offense and special teams that will have to come through for us,” said Russo.
Revenge, pride, and momentum will be on the line at Independence, as Embry will try to guide Water Valley above the .500 mark, and restore the confidence and self-belief previously exuding from this group of Blue Devils.