By Reid Bankston
With their season on the brink, and facing a 12-0 deficit at halftime, the Water Valley Blue Devils fielded a furious second half comeback, only to come up short in overtime, falling 27-20 to the Belmont Cardinals (9-3).
Willed by the play of D.C. Logan, Torrey Horton, and Eric Buckley in the “Wild Devil,” Water Valley (7-5) put up 20 second-half points, only for their season to end when Chris Conard’s touchdown reception on fourth and goal in overtime was ruled out of bounds.
“We played well in the second half. That’s what we got, we’ve got a bunch of good kids that made up their mind at halftime that they were going to come out and win the ball game and I’m proud of them,” said Embry.
The Blue Devils, who in large spurts of the first half looked rattled and confused, quickly fell behind 6-0, when Belmont’s Gage Smith broke free for a 35 yard touchdown run.
Unable to muster anything offensively and hampered by a much maligned officiating crew, Water Valley fell behind 12-0 with two minutes remaining in the first quarter, as Cardinal safety Jon Harrison intercepted Blue Devil quarterback Josh Johnson, returning it for a 37 yard score.
The Cardinals looked to increase their lead heading into the half, but Water Valley cornerback Desmond Hervey intercepted a Belmont pass at the Water Valley three yard line with 52 seconds to go in the half.
“I didn’t think we came out and did well in any phase of the game in the first half for whatever reason,” said defensive coordinator Richard Russo. “We really challenged them at halftime… Coach Embry told the kids how it was and the kids responded.”
After stumbling throughout the first half offensively, Water Valley exploded out of the locker room, cutting the Belmont lead to 12-7 as Horton ran over the Cardinal defense for a 30 yard touchdown run just 2:40 into the second half.
“The last half of the year we’ve been putting that (Wild Devil) in,” said Embry. “We’ve said that all year, we’ve got a bunch of good running backs and they played well tonight.”
Belmont’s ensuing drive reached the Water Valley 27 yard line, but Russo’s defense, led by J.D. Fondon’s 24 tackles, stood tall, turning the ball back over to Logan and the Blue Devil offense.
The Blue Devils next drive wasn’t pretty, but it was effective none the less, as Logan completed his only pass of the night to Conard in the back of the end zone for a 14 yard touchdown six seconds into the fourth quarter, giving Water Valley a 13-12 lead.
The Cardinals had no answer for Logan and the Wild Devil, and were growing visibly frustrated and fatigued. Embry believes, his Blue Devils were on the cusp of delivering the knockout punch, but were unable to deliver.
“We just needed to make a play or two right there and win the ball game in regulation. We just didn’t get it done, you can go back and name a bunch of plays, but one play changes the outcome,” said Embry.
Behind a power game, Belmont regrouped and responded with an authoritative 13 play, 64 yard touchdown drive of their own, pushing the Cardinals back out in front 20-13 with 4:57 remaining in the game.
“It’s a Wing-T and they run it well. When you play a Wing-T once a year or twice a year, you can play it well, but we don’t play them,” said Embry. “They’ve got a lot of old guys too and that helps them in games like this.”
Logan wasted no time in pulling his team level, needing only five plays to find the end zone, this time on a 29 yard, tying the game at 20-20 with 3:44 remaining in the game.
Belmont looked to end the game in regulation, but the Cardinal drive was cut short when the officials incorrectly lost track of the downs, handing the ball back to the Blue Devils after a Belmont third down play, sending the game to overtime.
The Blue Devils won the coin toss and elected to go on defense first, but a youthful Water Valley defense couldn’t keep the Cardinals out of the end zone as Belmont took a 27-20 lead after just three plays.
“We allowed eight yards on their first play, and that really puts you in a no win situation,” said Russo. “We had a kid line up in the wrong spot on the third down play and they made us pay. Give them credit for that.”
It appeared as if Logan had pulled the Blue Devils within a point on Water Valley’s first play of overtime, but his ten yard run was called back for what appeared to be a less-than-convincing holding call.
Logan gained eight yards on first and twenty, but back-to-back rushes for negative yardage set the Blue Devils up with a fourth and goal from the 14 yard line.
After a Water Valley time out, Johnson reentered the game at quarterback and fired a pass to Conard in the corner of the end zone. While the sophomore wide out came up with the ball, he was correctly ruled out of bounds, ending Water Valley’s four game win streak and the season.
“We wanted to go on defense first and see what we had to do to win the ball game. Obviously you don’t want to give up a touchdown, but we came back and had a couple of plays, we just didn’t make a play when we had to,” said Embry.
“That’s not what we play for in Water Valley, the second round of the playoffs, but sometimes that happens. I hate it for those few seniors we have, because they’re not going to be on the field to see the fruits of all their labor, but when we go to Jackson, they can go with us.”