By Reid Bankston
CALHOUN CITY – Time after time Water Valley knocked at the door, and time and again, the Blue Devils were denied.
Riding high after two straight rivalry wins, Water Valley (2-1) faced their stiffest test yet in the form of a road trip to Calhoun City (3-0).
A highly anticipated matchup between the Wildcats and Blue Devils lived up to the hype, as each team looked to prove that their state championship aspirations were the real deal.
However for Water Valley, unlike previous weeks, another standout defensive performance was not enough, as missed opportunities on the offensive side of the ball proved costly.
Five times the Water Valley offense moved the ball deep inside Calhoun City territory, only to score one time, as the Wildcat defense stood tall in a 10-7 victory for the home team.
“It’s not just one thing on offense.You can go down the list, its blown assignments, lack of experience, play calling, and a lot of times its just misfortune,” said Water Valley head coach Brad Embry.“ All of that stuff is correctable though and we’re going to get better on offense.”
Water Valley looked likely to score on their first possession, as senior Eric Buckley ripped the Wildcat defense for 57 yards on the game’s opening play. However, the Blue Devils were stopped on a fourth down and inches on the Calhoun City 23 yard line just four plays later, keeping the game tied at zero.
After a Wildcat punt on their opening possession, the Blue Devils went back to work on offense, as a 20 yard run by Buckley and a 34 yard catch by Chris Conard moved Water Valley into Calhoun City territory.
This time, Water Valley would not be denied, as Kenon Kirkwood struck from 22 yards out for his first career touchdown run, giving the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead with a little over three minutes to go in the opening quarter.
The Blue Devils second missed opportunity came on their ensuing offensive possession, as a C.J. Jackson recovered fumble turned the ball back over to the Water Valley offense.
Freshman quarterback E.J. Bounds completed a 19 yard pass to Quinterrio Bailey on the drive’s first play, but Water Valley again turned the ball over on downs after being stopped on a fourth and two on the Calhoun City 38 yard line.
Jennings and the rest of the Wildcat offense took advantage of the Blue Devils’ wastefulness, driving down to the Water Valley 19 yard line on nine plays before settling for a field goal, cutting the lead to 7-3 early in the second quarter. Jennings who has enjoyed a hugely successful start to the season finished the game with just 126 yards through the air and 27 yards on the ground.
“He’s (Jennings) is a really good football player and they’ve got some good athletes,” said Embry. “But we’re good on defense and we know that, those guys do a great job.”
Neither team threatened to score for the rest of the half, but it was once again Water Valley that was presented with an opportunity to extend their lead early in the second half.
A Tae Lawrence fumble gave Water Valley the ball on the Calhoun City 42 yard line, but the Blue Devils could only muster two yards on three plays, before punting the ball back to the Wildcats.
“We had so many chances to win the ballgame, but we just didn’t get it done,” said Embry.
Calhoun City nearly took the lead on their next possession after an Avery Hill 44 yard run set the Wildcats up with great field position. However, as it has been on numerous occasions this season, the Blue Devil defense delivered a crucial turnover, keeping the Wildcats off the scoreboard.
The Blue Devils could do nothing with the Adam Langham forced fumble though, going three and out on their next possession midway through the third quarter.
It looked like Richard Russo’s defense would once again keep Jennings and the Wildcat offense out of the end zone after forcing Calhoun City into a fourth and five from the Water Valley 33 yard line.However, there would be no turnover or reprieve here, as Jennings’ found wide receiver Demarius Howard in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats their first and only lead of the game at 10-7 with just over two minutes to go in the third quarter.
Howard finished the game with 88 yards receiving on seven catches, but none were better than the Wildcats’ lone touchdown on the night.
“Number 25 (Howard) made a play that the majority of high school wide receivers could not make. You have to tip your hat to the QB (Jennings) and him,” said Russo.
Water Valley looked for an immediate response to retake the lead, embarking on a twelve play drive starting at their 20 yard line. The drive, fueled mostly by the running of Buckley and senior Torrey Horton, led Water Valley to the Calhoun City seven yard line before Kirkwood was stopped short of the first down, leaving Embry with a fourth down decision.
Embry decided to put his faith in his placekicker Bounds, but the freshman’s field goal attempt fell short from 24 yards out, turning the ball and the momentum back over to Calhoun City with just over seven minutes to go in the game.
The Wildcats began melting the clock away, racking up two first downs while keeping the ball on the ground for eight consecutive plays before the Blue Devil defense finally forced a punt.
Calhoun City downed the ensuing punt on the Water Valley 8 yard line, leaving the Blue Devils with 92 yards to go for a victory with no timeouts.
Bounds found receiver Desmond Hervey on a fourth down from the Water Valley four yard line for a 16 yard gain to give the Blue Devils a glimmer of hope, but Bounds would not complete another pass on the drive, as an incomplete pass on fourth down gave the ball back to the Wildcats with just thirty four seconds remaining.
Jennings needed just one knee to salt away the rest of the time, wrapping up the victory for the Wildcats.
Bounds finished the night with 76 yards passing, marking arguably his best performance in his short Blue Devil tenure and despite the missed field goal attempt, Embry has no concerns about his quarterback.
“He was playing 8th grade football last year,” said Embry. “He’s not where he wants to be and he’s not where I want him to be, but he’ll get there. As he gets better, so will our offense.”
Defensively, Russo was pleased with the point total Water Valley held Jennings and the rest of the explosive Wildcat offense too, but the third year defensive coordinator eyed room for improvement.
“I am extremely proud of our effort versus Calhoun City. To hold an offense that had been averaging 47.5 points per game to only 10 points is a testament to our kids’ heart and effort,” said Russo.“However, giving up 250 yards in the game is not us, it’s not what we do, it’s not what we teach. We have got to clean up a lot of areas.”
Water Valley hosts J.Z. George
Water Valley returns home this week for a matchup between old coaching friends. J.Z. George (1-2), coached by former Tupelo Golden Wave assistant Chris McRae, come into their meeting with the Blue Devils on a two game slide and looking to exact some revenge after 2009’s meeting fell the way of Water Valley.
“Coach McRae does an outstanding job with his offense. He and Coach Embry both came from Tupelo and they know a lot of good offensive football,” said Russo. “He always has a trick or two up his sleeve to go along with several new wrinkles that he puts in for your defense.”
J.Z. George opened the season with a 33-0 victory over Greenville O’Bannon, but the Jaguars have only put up 20 points in their last two games.