Although the Blue Devil defense thoroughly dominated Williams-Sullivan, Water Valley’s next opponents, the Bruce Trojans, will bring a welcome challenge to the Blue Devils.
“We must force numerous three and outs and key turnovers. We have to get the ball in our offense’s hands and keep it out of Curtis Lyons and Richard Freelon’s hands,” Defensive Coach Richard Russo said.
Freelon, who rushed for 2, 533 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2007, helped the Trojans hang 61 points on the Blue Devil defense in last year’s 61-20 Bruce victory. The 61 points given up by Water Valley was the second most in school history, and Woodard knows that his team needs to be at its best to stop Freelon and the rest of the Trojans.
“We have to stop Richard Freelon,” said a determined J.J. Woodard. “The defense has to come to play ball against Bruce.”
Blue Devils Battle Familiar Division Rival
You will only hear the Water Valley staff and players talking about the opponents directly in front of them, but make no mistake about it, their date with the Bruce Trojans has been circled since Bruce embarrassed a youthful Blue Devil squad in last year’s matchup. For Water Valley, this is a chance to stake their claim as legitimate division contenders, and gain instant redemption for a season of shortcomings in 2007. Although the media and those outside the Blue Devil camp seem to believe that Water Valley can’t make a contest out of their trip to Bruce, Russo and staff will attempt to “circle the wagons” and spring the upset.
“Bruce versus Water Valley epitomizes what’s great about high school football. It’s a great rivalry, and there’ll be an enormous crowd and a tremendous atmosphere,” said Russo. “We feel like nobody in the state believes we can win the game except our 59 players, coaching staff, and supporters. We feel like we can compete with Bruce and we look forward to the challenge.”
This rivalry is far from unfamiliar to the Blue Devil staff, as defensive line coach Bryant Mix, a former Water Valley standout, and Embry, a former Bruce standout, squared off against each other in their prep days.
Safeties/Receivers coach Shane Brown and offensive line coach Clint Faust have seen the rivalry from the Water Valley sideline, while Russo will take part in the rivalry for the first time as a Blue Devil, as the defensive coordinator is a former Trojan coach. Although Russo fondly remembers his time at Bruce, his allegiance and focus are crystal clear heading into Friday night’s encounter.
“I spent five of the happiest years of my life there (Bruce), and that senior class is very special to me because we had so much success in the 7th and 8th grade. Curtis Lyons, Richard Freelon, and Cleveland Freelon are good athletes, but they’re even better people,” said Russo. “But when those lights come on, I don’t know those people, and they’re the enemy for four quarters.”
There is no doubting the hype surrounding this matchup, as Water Valley is attempting to challenge Bruce in the division, but Russo is quick to downplay the meeting with the Trojans as a make or break game.
“They need to know, win or lose, the entire season does not ride on this game, but if we win, it’d put us in great position to win a division title,” said Russo.
Last year’s 41-point margin is a rarity in this rivalry as 12 matchups between the Blue Devils and Trojans have been decided by a touchdown or less. If Water Valley is to keep this one close, with the hope of pulling the upset, the Blue Devils will have to win the battle in the trenches, maintaining ball control with Logan, Buckley, and Horton along the way. Water Valley’s playoff hopes won’t hinge on the outcome of this matchup, but the amount of respect and pride on the line is invaluable, as Embry and his staff continue to restore the prestige around the Blue Devil program.