By Reid Bankston
In a crucial away encounter for the Water Valley Blue Devils, that’s all it took for Coach Brad Embry’s bunch to put the game beyond the reach of the home standing Cougars. Water Valley (4-4, 2-1), who dominated both halves, went on to topple South Pontotoc 33-19.
A mis-hit opening Water Valley kickoff was recovered by the Blue Devils, giving quarterback Josh Johnson a short field to work with. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Johnson made the advantage count, connecting with his favorite target, Chris Conard, for a 27 yard touchdown reception.
“That was a great read by Josh (Johnson) because they changed their defense late and he threw it to the right guy. That’s not easy,” said Embry.
A fumble on the next South Pontotoc kickoff eventually led to a Johnson quarterback sneak, while an ensuing three-and-out by the Cougars, led to a Torrey Horton touchdown run. This gave the Blue Devils a 19-0 lead with just over five minutes to go in the first quarter.
“I thought it was important for us to jump out on them. We did, but then we let them get a little bit of confidence. We missed a touchdown that would’ve been 26-0 and that would’ve been all-she-wrote,” said Embry. “We had the game in control all night I felt like, but our defense just relaxed a little bit.”
Conard, who has become one of Water Valley’s big play threats, capitalized on another South Pontotoc fumble just after the half, as the sophomore cornerback recovered a Cougar fumble and returned it 21 yards to put the Blue Devils up 26-0.
“Chris (Conard) brings a lot of intensity to the game,” said Water Valley defensive coordinator Richard Russo. “He’s still young and he’s getting better as an individual, but he’s a team player and you love to have him on your side.”
South Pontotoc provided some resistance in the second half, as Cougar quarterback Wesley Barfield found receiver Matthew Berry for two second half scores. The second score served merely as a moral victory, as it came with the seconds ticking down.
“I thought at times we played extremely well versus the South Pontotoc spread offense and at other times not as crisp,” said Russo.
“Their first two touchdowns, the quarterback hit the receiver in a tight window; sometimes you tip your hat to the young man for making an incredible play.”
Senior D.C. Logan added a third quarter touchdown for Water Valley. The Blue Devils biggest playmaker accumulated just over 150 yards on the ground on 23 carries.
Water Valley must now turn their attention to another tough road trip at Winona, a game that could seal the Blue Devils playoff fate.
“If we take care of business this Friday, we clinch a number two seed and home field advantage in the second round, so we have another big stage coming up for us and our kids will be ready,” said Russo.
Water Valley, who owns the tie breaker over Nettleton with their victory over the Tigers earlier this season, will need a victory against Winona (3-6, 1-2) or Mooreville (6-3, 1-2) to earn a favorable playoff draw.