WATER VALLEY – The Water Valley Blue Devils came into Friday night’s division opener against the Eupora Eagles looking to secure an upset victory against the division region champions. However, it was Eupora that had made the statement at the end of the night, as the Eagles dodged the upset attempt, and secured a 28-12 road victory.
Head Coach Brad Embry knew his Water Valley squad would have to provide their best performance of the season to upset the Eagles, but missed opportunities and blown assignments cost the Blue Devils dearly.
“The kids played hard. We didn’t play nearly as well as we could, and against Eupora that isn’t good enough,” said Embry. “Against Eupora we knew we’d probably have to play our best game of the year and we just didn’t do it. I think the kids played their butts off as far as playing with effort. We didn’t have to play perfect, but we had to play much better than we did tonight.”
Water Valley opened the first quarter brightly enough though, as the Blue Devil forced the Eupora offense into a three-and-out on their first possession, providing their offense with an opportunity to take the lead.
Behind the running of D.C. Logan, and the continued improvement of quarterback Josh Johnson, the Blue Devil offense did just that. Six carries from Logan took the Water Valley offense inside the Eupora 35-yard line, but it was Johnson that finished the drive off in impressive fashion. On a fourth down play from the Eagles 32-yard line, the junior signal caller rolled out of the pocket, connecting with tight end D’ante Rogers for the touchdown. Water Valley’s extra point woes continued though, as yet another miss put the Blue Devils ahead 6-0 with 6:33 remaining in the first quarter.
“He’s (Rogers) got a lot of ability. He’s still learning to play tight end, so it’s an everyday process of him trying to get better and learn the position, he can make plays,” said Embry.
Solid defensive play was the theme for the rest of the first quarter and the beginning of the second, as both Eupora and Water Valley allowed little offensive movement.
Unfortunately for Water Valley, it was Eupora who broke up the first half defensive stalemate, as a Shawn Ashford dive from three yards capped off a 62-yard touchdown for the Eagles, putting Eupora ahead 7-6 with 6:58 remaining in the second quarter.
Water Valley’s ensuing drive was stopped on the Eupora 20-yard line after a Johnson pass on a fourth-and-five fell incomplete. Eupora took over looking to add to their lead, and Junior Graham’s team did just that. Behind the running of Chad Gaston, Demarcus Pass, Ashford, and quarterback Tre McCarthy, the Eagles moved inside the Water Valley 10-yard line with under a minute to go in the half. A sack on McCarthy on first down forced Eupora back to the 14, as the Blue Devils were looking for another vital defensive stand. Water Valley had an opportunity to seize the momentum on the following play, as McCarthy forced a pass into the end zone, but Blue Devil defensive back Chris Connard could not add to his heroics from last week, as the freshman dropped a potentially game changing interception. Eupora took advantage of the Blue Devils misfortunes, as McCarthy connected with tight end Dominick Woodard for a 14-yard touchdown on the next play, putting the Eagles ahead 14-6 with 13.5 seconds remaining before the half.
“When I talk about playing perfect, we had to make those plays. We catch that interception, we go in 7-6 at halftime getting the ball coming out,” said Embry. “Like I told the kids, we’re learning to win and when you play 2-2A ball against Eupora, and this has been this way since I was in grade school, you better come to play and you better play a good ballgame. You better not make mistakes and we made some tonight and it hurt us. A play here or there and we could easily have won the ballgame.”
Water Valley answered Eupora’s touchdown to cap off the first half with a touchdown of their own to begin the second. Behind Logan and sophomore J.D. Fondon, the Blue Devils marched down the field, before briefly stalling inside the Eupora three-yard line. A Logan 21-yard run set the Blue Devils up at the Eagles door step, and fittingly enough, the junior finished the drive off with a fourth-and-one conversion from the Eupora one-yard line. Eupora’s Caylon Johnson tipped Johnson’s two point pass attempt, as the Blue Devils pulled within two at 14-12 with 6:06 remaining in the third quarter.
Pass returned the Water Valley kick off to the Water Valley 41-yard line, as the Blue Devils kick coverage continues to struggle. It took Eupora just three plays to take advantage of the positive field position, as an eight-yard run by Gaston set up a third down, 33-yard Ashford touchdown run, putting Eupora ahead 21-12 with 4:36 left in the third quarter.
After the division foes traded possessions, Water Valley looked to mount a second half comeback, but the Blue Devils found themselves ruing yet another missed opportunity. Logan, who rushed for 156-yard on 36 carries on the night, led the Blue Devils inside the Eagles’ territory, but Water Valley’s offense faltered at one of the game’s biggest moments. On a fourth-and-one on the Eupora 30-yard line with 8:44 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils couldn’t convert, all but ending their hopes of a second consecutive home victory.
“We’ve got to put together more scoring drives, we get down there and once again tonight we have fourth-and-one and we don’t get it. You’re not going to beat Eupora not getting fourth and ones,” said Embry. “We’re playing a team (Eupora) that’s done it and we haven’t and we’re learning how to do it. They’ve done it, and we have to catch them, we have to figure out how to make those crucial plays.”
Eupora, led by a strong rushing attack, proved both why they are defending the region champions, and why they are favorites to repeat with their next drive. Gaston carried the ball eight times on the Eagles’ next possession, including a two yard touchdown run on 4th and goal with 1:56 remaining in the game, putting Eupora ahead 28-12.
“I don’t think they wore us down, I saw them getting up off the ground slower than we were. I think that they blocked us sometimes and we didn’t block them sometimes, that is basically what it amounted too,” said Embry. “I don’t think either team wore each other down, I just think it was a battle of executing and making plays when we had a chance.”
Water Valley attempted to cut into Eupora’s final margin, but they were stopped short when Johnson was intercepted by Johnson for the second time with 18.3 seconds remaining, resigning the Blue Devils to a losing start in division play.
Missed Assignments, Bad Technique
In Water Valley’s first five games, the Blue Devil defense established themselves as a formidable unit, coming up with timely stops and huge defensive turnovers. However, against Eupora, the Blue Devils could come up with neither, as the defending region champions caught all the breaks in Friday night’s match up. Eupora, who came into their meeting with the Blue Devils averaging 26.2 points per game, took advantage of an off night by the Water Valley defense en route to a 313 yard, 28 point performance
“They were running a simple toss play, but we didn’t execute our techniques, the defense we run requires all 11 guys to play with technique,” said defensive coordinator Richard Russo. “When your number is called upon to make a play, you have to do it.”
While Water Valley held an advantage in first downs, amounting to 13 while holding Eupora to 11, they lost the all important turnover battle. The Eagles recorded two crucial turnovers, while Water Valley left several opportunities on the table.