By Reid Bankston
WATER VALLEY – It may be a new season with a new cast of characters, but the Water Valley Blue Devils still have that flare for the dramatic.
After ending their 2009 season in heartbreaking fashion with an overtime loss at Belmont, the Blue Devils (1-0) extended their streak of instant classics into 2010 with a heart stopping 13-7 win over rivals Bruce (0-1).
“It was a great high school football game. The effort that the Bruce kids and the Water Valley kids showed on this field tonight was great, you couldn’t ask for more,” reported Head Coach Brad Embry. “We’ve got to get better, but it’s going to be easy to get better with the effort that our kids show.”
Water Valley could not have asked for a better start, after a Torrey Horton fake punt put the Blue Devils on the Trojan 30 yard-line on their first possession. Four consecutive running plays put Water Valley inside the 10, before freshman quarterback E. J. Bounds hit tight end Adam Langham for a nine yard touchdown pass, putting the Blue Devils up 7-0 with nine seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
Water Valley should have put their rivals further behind after a botched snap on a Bruce punt gave the Blue Devils the ball on the Trojan 29. However, Water Valley failed to capitalize.
Bruce wasted little time punishing Water Valley for their wastefulness, tying the game up on a Demetrius Evans three-yard run, tying the game at seven with a little over four minutes in the half. Evans, who rushed for 40 of Bruce’s 113 yards on the ground, was set up by a 38 yard run by Shaq Evans, after a missed tackle by Blue Devil linebacker J.D. Fondon.
“Last year I missed tackles and I couldn’t overcome it, but J. J. Woodard came into the locker room at halftime and told me to calm down and relax and that’s what I had to do,” said Fondon after the game.
Water Valley opened the second half in a similar fashion as the first, methodically driving into Bruce territory. However, two runs of a combine negative 11 yards put the Blue Devils in a fourth and goal situation from the Bruce 18 yard line.
Looking to take advantage of a noticeable height advantage on the outside, Bounds lofted a pass to sophomore Devin Fleming near the goal line. However, Bounds’ pass was tipped and bobbled before eventually ending up in Trojan Shaq Bush’s hands, with the Trojan defensive back sprinting the other way, only to be kept out of the end zone by a recovering Chris Conard.
“I just told him (Bounds) next time to throw the ball away,” said Embry. “That’s a ball that we should catch, but that’s a ninth grader throwing to a tenth grader. We have to do a better job than that and I really believe that we’ll catch that ball, we just didn’t tonight.”
Bruce looked to grab control of the game after Bush’s 67 yard return, riding a strong rushing attack inside the Water Valley 10 yard line. However, as has been the case several times in Embry’s tenure, the Blue Devil defense stood tall, forcing the Trojan offense off the field after stopping Bush on fourth down with a minute and fifty-six seconds left in the third quarter.
“I didn’t doubt our defense, I knew our defense was going to hold. At the time, the game could’ve gone either way, but we had to buckle down and play defense, and that’s what we did,” reported senior safety/running back Eric Buckley.
The Blue Devils came the closest to winning the game in regulation before being stopped on fourth down on the Bruce 24 yard line with a little over a minute left in the fourth quarter, capping off an otherwise uneventful final quarter.
Heading into overtime, Embry gathered his entire team around to put emphasis on going back to basic football and stressing that the overtime period would be a test of will.
“We had to win it, I refused to let my team lose. We didn’t play a great game, but we fought hard. Going into overtime, winning was the only thing on my mind,” said Buckley.
The Water Valley offense took the field first in overtime, looking for a touchdown to shift the pressure onto their Trojan counterparts. With that in mind, Embry turned to one of his most experienced players to deliver, and Buckley did not disappoint, scoring on third down from four yards out. Buckley finished the night with 46 yards on the ground on nine carries.
“Everybody in the stands was probably wondering why I wasn’t giving him (Buckley) the ball after the first quarter. But had I given him the ball more in the first and second quarter he wouldn’t have been able to go in overtime and in the fourth quarter,” said Embry. “He was just ripping folks up in the fourth quarter.”
Water Valley’s delight over Buckley’s touchdown was soon dampened by a missed extra point, leaving the Trojans just a touchdown and extra point away from a crucial road victory.
“The first thing that popped in my mind was the Belmont game last year and how I wasn’t going to let that happen to us this year,” said Fondon.“I told the defense to not worry about the extra point and just hold them”
Much like Embry, Bruce head coach James Ray turned to Bush, the spearhead of the Trojan offense to deliver a victory for his team.However, it was not to be for Bruce, as Water Valley linebacker C.J. Jackson held on to Bush in the backfield, allowing defensive lineman Danny Smith to strip the sophomore receiver of the ball.
Fondon, who had not had his most memorable night in a Blue Devil uniform, fell on the ball, as Water Valley coaches and players stormed the field in celebration of their 13-7 rivalry win.
“When I saw seven (Bush) in the backfield, I knew he was getting the ball. After I saw the ball come out, it was a big relief, I knew it was over,” said Fondon.
Water Valley Heads to Coffeeville
With one rivalry game down, Water Valley will now turn their attention to county rival Coffeeville (0-1).
The Pirates, who were handled with ease by Calhoun City in their opener, ran Water Valley ragged in last year’s 35-24 victory, racking up 248 yards on the ground.
“Last year Coffeeville beat us with speed. We weren’t playing with any technique, that game was the lowest grade I’d ever had,” said Fondon. “We’ll bounce back this year because I want that trophy back before I leave.”
For defensive coordinator Richard Russo, Friday night’s trip to Coffeeville offers a chance for not only redemption, but for this group of Blue Devils to continue on track for a potentially special season. If redemption is to be achieved for Water Valley, Russo knows his defense must be at their very best, mastering not only effort, but technique.
“We prepare as if we’re playing the state champion every week.We are going to try to take away what they do best and we’ll do a better job of that this year,” said Russo.