One week after putting on a dominating all around performance in a playoff clinching win against J.Z. George, the Water Valley Blue Devils saw what domination looked like from the other side.
Thanks in large part to an abysmal first half performance, the Blue Devils (5-5 overall, 2-3 division) fell 28-14 at Ackerman (8-2, 3-2).
“Where we’re at in our program right now, we don’t understand how to play from a good win. You saw the most lackluster first half that I’ve been a part of in a long time. You’ve got to show up and play every week,” said Water Valley Head Coach Brad Embry. “Obviously late in the game we played with a little more intensity, but it was too late against a good team.”
Water Valley and Ackerman yielded little in their opening possession, but the Indians caught the first big break of the game with 5:08 remaining in the first quarter, as Ackerman recovered a muffed punt by Blue Devil running back D.C. Logan at the Water Valley two-yard line. Ackerman took a 7-0 lead just two plays later behind a five-yard touchdown run from John Cummings.
Logan redeemed himself on the next play in somewhat disorderly fashion, as the junior fumbled the handoff from quarterback Josh Johnson, but regained possession en route to a 68 yard touchdown run with 3:56 left in the first quarter, tying the game at 7-7.
However, Logan’s touchdown run was one of the few bright spots for the talented tailback on the night, as he could only muster 33 yards on his ensuing 16 carries.
“We didn’t block well, tackle well, kick well, do anything well,” said Embry.
It took Ackerman only three plays to regain the lead, as running back Shawn Stricklin scampered in from 31 yards out to put the Indians up 14-7 with 2:32 remaining in the first quarter.
“We made some mistakes in the first half that were fundamentals and we don’t need to be doing that at this time of year,” said defensive coordinator Richard Russo. “We’ve got to be more mentally focused and competitive, every play means something and we have to play that way.”
After a brief appearance by the Water Valley offense, Ackerman took a 20-7 lead with 6:35 left before halftime. The Indians marched 73 yards on 9 plays, capped off by a 30-yard touchdown run by Stricklin.
Water Valley’s next possession yielded little promise, as both the offensive line, and the passing game struggled to establish any noticeable momentum or rhythm.
“Some of it was his (Johnson) fault, some of it was the receivers fault, some of it was protection. From the sideline, it always looks like the same thing, but it was a multitude of things. We did some things good but when you’re throwing the ball, it takes a lot of execution and we didn’t take care of that. The passing game was a culmination of the whole game,” said Embry. “We weren’t focused on run blocking, defense, special teams, I think we made a big mistake in every phase of the football game.”
Water Valley failed to take advantage of two fumbles on both sides of the half, as the Blue Devils couldn’t overcome what seemed to be a celebration hangover. Stricklin fumbled with 2:28 remaining before the half, but the Blue Devils were forced into a three and out on the next possession. Cornerback/Wide Receiver Leo Daniels, one of the few bright spots for the Blue Devils, forced a Cummings fumble on Ackerman’s first possession of the second half, but again, Water Valley was forced into a three and out.
“We’re growing up as a football program, we’re not to the point of making the playoffs and coming out and playing the next game. I believe that if that would’ve been the last game of the season, a playoff game, a different team would’ve shown up, but that doesn’t matter, that’s not the point,” said Embry. “The point is that you play the next game and we’re not at the point of doing that yet, but we’re going to get there.”
Ackerman took a 28-7 lead with 5:54 remaining in the third quarter, as Stricklin leaped in from one yard out. Quarterback Andrew Furr connected with wide receiver Pat Scribner for the two point conversion.
Water Valley made it 28-14 with 4:39 left in the game, as the Blue Devils embarked on a 17 play, 79-yard touchdown drive, as Johnson connected with Daniels from 14 yards out for the score. Johnson finished the night 9-26 for 91 yards while Daniels hauled in 4 catches for 38 yards.
The Blue Devils turned the ball over on downs on their last possession, capping off a night absent of discipline and focus from Water Valley.
“I expect them to play the best game we can next week. I really believe that and I don’t doubt that about our team, but I’m just disappointed with how we played in this middle game, the game before the playoff game was pretty disappointing,” said Embry after a highly critical post game talk.