Water Valley knew what to expect and Bruce delivered in style, as the senior duo of running back Richard Freelon and quarterback Curtis Lyons proved too much for the Blue Devils in a 33-14 Trojan victory.
Coach Embry and the rest of the Blue Devils (4-4 overall, 1-2 in region play) looked to keep their unbeaten road record, and hopes of a region title alive, against Bruce ( 6-2, 3-0), but second half shortcomings derailed any real attempt at an upset.
“We played okay at times, but we didn’t play good enough to win. We’ve got to score more than 14 points, and we have to hold them to less than 33,” said Embry. “We gave up too much on defense and didn’t score nearly enough. They’re going to score, that’s a good football team, but we’ve got to be more consistent. We didn’t punch it in in the second half and we stumped our foot here or there.”
Embry’s trip back to his alma mater started off brightly enough, as the Blue Devils answered Freelon’s opening touchdown run in authoritative fashion. After Bruce, behind Lyons and Freelon, drove 64 yards in just seven plays, Water Valley put together its own seven-play touchdown drive.
Behind a purposeful offensive line and strong running from sophomore full back/linebacker J.D. Fondon and running back/safety D.C. Logan, the Blue Devils took a 7-6 lead with 5:01 left in the first quarter after junior quarterback Josh Johnson forced his way in from two yards out.
The Water Valley defense, which featured no cornerbacks and 4 safeties in an attempt to slow the Bruce rushing attack, came up with a huge turnover on the Trojans next possession, as Logan made a leaping interception at the Water Valley 38-yard line. Again, it was Logan that set the tone, as the junior playmaker rushed for 54 yards on four carries, including a 29-yard touchdown run, to extend the Blue Devil lead to 14-6 with 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Logan finished the night with 166 yards on 21 carries with one touchdown, as well as a forced fumble and an interception.
It took Bruce only three plays to respond, as Freelon began to assert his will on the Blue Devil defense. The senior running back rushed for 76 yards on just two carries to cut the Trojan deficit to 14-13 with 11:07 remaining before halftime.
It looked as if another Water Valley response was in the cards, but a failed fourth and one attempt from the Bruce 47 yard line cut short the drive.
“It’s something we’ve done in several big games, you get fourth and one and we don’t get. We’ve got to get fourth and one, if you’re going to be a good football team, you’ve got to get fourth and one,” Embry reiterated. “When the game is on the line, that’s something you do, and we didn’t do it.”
The Trojans, behind a Cleveland Freelon end around and a Lyons touchdown run, made the Blue Devils pay dearly, putting Bruce ahead 20-14 in just two plays with 6:45 left in the opening half.
“A veteran team like Bruce didn’t panic when they went down 14-6. They stayed cool, calm, and collected,” said defensive coordinator Richard Russo. “We had a high risk high reward scheme and they did what they had to do to execute, and that falls back on me.”
Neither team could add to the scoreboard before the half, but Bruce wasted little time pulling away during the third period.
After a Logan fumble and Lyons return gifted the Trojans the ball at the Water Valley 16-yard line to begin the second half, Freelon found the end zone again, this time from five yards out. With 9:44 left in the third quarter and a 26-14 lead now in hand, Freelon and Lyons begin to have their way, as the backfield combo rushed for 306 yards on the night.
“They’re very good, they’ve been good for three years. They’re outstanding football players and I’m glad they’re seniors,” said Embry. “They’ve been killing it in the weight room, you can tell they are very well conditioned athletes.”
A Lyons fumble, forced by Logan and recovered by senior captain Nick Robinson at the Water Valley 43-yard line, presented the Blue Devils with their best scoring opportunity of the second half, but an incomplete pass by Johnson on fourth and 23 gave the ball back to the Trojans.
Freelon broke free down the sideline for a 67-yard run to set up Bruce’s next score on the ensuing play, as the reigning region MVP scored from five yards out to make it 33-14 for the Trojans.
The Water Valley offense failed to produce another scoring opportunity, as the 27 unanswered Trojan points proved too much for the Blue Devils.
“They’re a very senior laden team, and they came out in the second half and bowed up,” said Embry. “Our kids played hard, we made a mistake here and there, a couple of fumbles and you can’t do that against Bruce.”
Second Half Struggles
A first half that featured two smash-mouth run attacks that at times resembled a heavy weight boxing match turned ugly for the Blue Devils in the second half.
Water Valley’s Logan proved he was up for the task of matching Freelon and Lyons in the first half, but neither the talented back, nor anybody else on the Blue Devil squad could muster anything as the game progressed.
Of Water Valley’s 239 yards on the night, 203 came in the first half. Perhaps an even more telling statistic lies within the Blue Devils’ first down totals. In a free flowing first half, Water Valley moved the ball at will, moving the chains 12 times, in the second half, the Blue Devil attack accounted for one. Water Valley’s lone first down came on a six-yard run by Logan, the drive later resulted in a punt from the Blue Devil 22-yard line.
The second half quite simply was a matchup of a Bruce team that had been there before, and a Water Valley team who has failed to make their own luck in both their meeting with the Trojans, and their 28-12 home loss to defending region champion Eupora.
“The group of seniors (Bruce) have been dedicated in the weight room and summer workouts,” said Russo. “They’re a measuring stick and we’re trying to get there.”