“Our coaching staff challenged our players to not be afraid to be great and play in a dominant fashion,” said defensive coordinator Rich-ard Russo. “I believe our young men prepared to do that this week in practice and went out and executed on Friday night versus the Warriors.”
The Water Valley defense forced the Warriors into a three-and-out on their first offensive possession, and it didn’t take the Blue Devil offense long to find its feet.
Embry has never been shy about the quality he possesses in the backfield, and on Water Valley’s first possession, four different players carried the ball for 44 yards before freshman quarterback E.J. Bounds found C.J. Jackson for a 37 yard touchdown reception, giving the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead with 6:30 remaining in the first quarter.
“I think in high school football, you build your team around what you have, and we have a good stable of running backs,” said Embry. “We can throw the ball and we actually threw it well at times tonight, but we play to our strength, and that’s defense and running the ball.”
Corinth again failed to get a first down on their ensuing possession, a theme that would repeat itself throughout the night.
Water Valley extended their lead on the next possession, as again Embry unleashed his talented running backs, as well as Bounds on the ground. The trio of Bounds, Buckley, and Torrey Horton rushed the ball on each play from scrimmage, as Water Valley scored on a 10-play, 73-yard drive. Horton capped off the drive with a five-yard touchdown run, putting the Blue Devils ahead by 14 with 11:55 left before halftime.
Each team traded punts over the next three possessions before Water Valley found the scoreboard again. Bounds and Jackson connected again for a 17 yard strike, then it was Bounds and Buckley that continued to do damage on the ground, rushing for 28 yards on three carries. Kenon Kirkwood finished the drive with a 41 yard touchdown run with 5:19 remaining in the half to extend Water Valley’s lead to 21-0.
Corinth showed some signs of life on their next offensive drive, picking up two first downs, but as each of their first half possessions had ended, the Warriors were forced to punt just before halftime.
“The beautiful thing is we were dominant, and after watching film, there is still a lot our coaching staff can teach our kids to improve on both in technique and execution,” said Russo.
After a Water Valley punt on the initial drive of the second half, the Warriors drove deep into Blue Devil territory, but again could not find the scoreboard, as Jackson blocked a 33 yard field goal with 7:29 remaining in the third quarter. Jackson finished the night with eight tackles and 63 yards on offense as well.
Water Valley put the game away on their next possession, as Eric Buckley hit the Corinth defense with a knockout blow – a 52 yard touchdown run to put the Blue Devils up 28-0 with 4:52 left in the third quarter.
As a team, Water Valley finished the night with 353 yards rushing on 47 carries, an effort that will no doubt please Embry after his offensive line turned in a poor performance against Moore-ville in the regular season finale.
Neither Corinth nor Water Valley had an effective offensive performance in the fourth quarter, as Russo’s defense continued to stifle any Warrior attempt at a comeback. Leading the way in those attempts was the linebacker trio of JD Fondon, Quinterrio Bailey, and Jackson. While Fondon turned in another stellar performance, Bailey reached a career high in tackles with 16, drawing praise from his defensive coordinator.
“I hope that this performance was a coming out party for him,” said Russo. “If he continues to step up his game to compliment (Fondon) and (Jackson) in the middle of our defense, we are going to be tough moving forward.”
While Bailey garnered the attention from Russo, it was Fondon that caught the attention of his teammate Jackson.
“I expected them to run at me, but they were going after (Fondon’s) side and he had about 20 tackles. I was trying to go over to his side and get some tackles,” said a laughing Jackson. “I try to compete against him to get more tackles, but apparently tonight I failed again. One of these days, I’m going to beat him,” Jackson said.
Water Valley Eager to Avoid Another Road Playoff Defeat
It was a playoff loss at Leland in 2008, and one at Belmont in 2009 that ended the Blue Devils season.
Although traveling in the playoffs may bring back some painful memories for the Blue Devils, a dominating performance in the first round and an impressive regular season has helped calm some nerves in the Water Valley locker room heading into the second round at Ruleville Central (7-5, 2-3).
“We had a lot of players last year that weren’t experienced. Last year was my first year starting, but this year, I’m going all out for the team, for the coach, for the town. This is my family, so I want to make them proud,” said Jackson.“I’m not nervous this year, I’m extremely confident. I feel like we’re going to take it to (Ruleville), so they better get ready, we’re coming.”
Ruleville Central advanced to the second round after upsetting Leflore County 30-24 on the road.
The Tigers come into Friday night’s matchup averaging nearly 300 yards per game, 139.4 coming through the air while 130.3 coming on the ground.
Facing a balanced Tiger attack, Embry will rely heavily on Russo to formulate a plan to stop the Ruleville attack, and that’s something the third year head coach has no problem doing.
“Well Coach Russo is going to have a great plan every week, he’s going to break them down like nobody else does and he’ll know what the other team’s strengths and weaknesses are,” said Embry.
Defensively, the Tigers are only giving up 18.4 points per game, but that unit has been exposed at times this season. In Ruleville’s five losses, the Tigers have given up 34.4 points per game, most of which have come in blowout defeats. The Tigers have been defeated by more than 30 points three times this season, including a 54-0 loss to traditional delta power Cleveland East Side.