By Reid Bankston
WATER VALLEY – Offensive inefficiency and crimpling inopportune turnovers sent Water Valley (2-3) on their way to a second straight defeat against the Independence Wildcats on homecoming.
For the second straight week, the Blue Devils were within touching distance of a narrow win, only for the Water Valley offense to sputter at critical times, allowing Independence to escape Bobby Clark Field with a 7-6 victory.
“It was just what we thought it would be against a good team, you’ve just got to score more points,” said Embry. “We’ll see what kind of team we are (after a 16-14 and 7-6 loss). We’ve got all we need, we just have to go to work and get it done.”
Independence opened the scoring with a controversial drive late in the first quarter, as Water Valley coaches accepted an illegal touching penalty that would have forced the Wildcats into a fourth and long situation, only for the officials to deny the request.
“We told them to back it up, but the officials did their own thing. We took the penalty and he declined it,” said Embry. “I don’t know, that’s all I can tell you.”
Independence quarterback London Parker took advantage of the officials miscue, capping off an 18 play, 89 yard drive with a one yard touchdown run. Although the scoreboard might suggest otherwise, Parker gave the Blue Devil defense all sorts of problems throughout the night.
“He’s (Parker) a good athlete, and we knew what we were getting into there. He runs that little-read play real well and he’s a good athlete on the edge,” said Embry.
Several Zenty Allen runs, coupled with an Adam Langham reception, allowed the Blue Devils to formulate a timely response. Senior running back D.C. Logan capped off the 11 play drive with a one yard touchdown run of his own. However, Barrett Larson’s extra point was blocked, leaving Water Valley trailing 7-6 with 7:03 remaining in the second quarter.
Water Valley safety Eric Buckley kept Independence’s lead from swelling with an interception in the end zone to put an end to a threatening Wildcat drive.
The Blue Devils couldn’t capitalize however; as Logan fumbled the ball just two plays later, giving the ball back to Independence. The Wildcats returned the favor on their next drive, capping off a first half that left a lot to be desired from each offensive unit.
Water Valley put together arguably their most impressive offensive drive to open the second half, only for Larson to miss a field goal.
The Blue Devils would only get two more possessions in the second half, but were unable to do anything with either – one of which started on the Independence six yard line after an Adam Langham blocked punt. That drive lasted one play, as the Blue Devils again turned it over at a vital point in the proceedings.
“That was one of many mistakes. We knew what the conditions would be and we knew it would be a battle of turnovers and field position, and that’s what it was. We just didn’t get it done,” said Embry. “We had a blocked extra point and we had a field goal attempt down there where we didn’t get it done and we also had the ball inside the ten twice and fumbled once and missed the field goal.”
Although turnovers did prove costly, the Blue Devil offense, specifically a much maligned offensive line, did little to help its own cause. The Wildcats were the second straight opponent to hold Water Valley to just one touchdown.
“We’re (offensive line) not real good right now and I’ve challenged them and I’ll continue to challenge them and we’ll get it fixed,” said Embry. “Against the better teams, you’ve got to get that pad level down and play a little bit harder. They want to be good, we’ve just got to keep getting better.”
However, defensive coordinator is quick to shield criticism from the Blue Devil offense, insisting that the whole team is at fault.
“We’re not just an offensive team, we’re not just a defensive team, we’re not just special teams, we’re a team,” said Russo. “Of course they’re (the players) are hurting and mad, as they should be but the team knows the potential we have.”
Next up for the Blue Devils is their division opener against Nettleton, a game in which Water Valley desperately needs a victory to rejuvenate a once promising season.
“The next one counts for the rest of the year. We will determine the future of this football team,” said Embry.
If the future is to include a second straight playoff birth, the Blue Devils must pick themselves up and find some much needed offensive fire power.