WATER VALLEY—On a hot, humid and highly anticipated first regular season game, the Classic Game, the Water Valley Blue Devils narrowly edged the New Albany Bulldogs 36-33. The Blue Devils (1-0) put up 28 unanswered points early in the contest, but were trailing by five points near the end of the game when a huge touchdown pass clinched the win. The meeting marked the sixth between the schools and the win pushed the Blue Devils’ overall record to 4-2 against the Bulldogs.
By the end of the first quarter, the game appeared to be similar to last year’s blowout with the Blue Devils leading 21-0. Senior quarterback Jonathan Kent found his rhythm early and finished the night with 13 completions in 21 attempts for 253 yards in the air, with three touchdowns and one questionable interception call.
But the early momentum slowed as the heat and humidity took a toll on the home team starters. “We played well early in all phases of the game, but when players started cramping, it made it difficult to provide our starters with the rest they needed,” Coach Brad Embry reported about the contest.
Keeping the play calling fairly even in the first drive, the Blue Devils ran the ball five times with most of the carries going to # 6 Brandon Bounds, who rushed 11 times for 81 yards and one touchdown during the game. In the same drive Kent connected with #10 L.J. Hawkins, once for 37 yards and the other in the end zone for a 6 yard touchdown – Hawkins first of two touchdowns on the night.
When the bigger 4A Bulldogs took the field for their first possession, the wrecking crew defense forced the Bulldogs to punt after only five plays. The Blue Devil’s second possession was much like the first, with Kent connecting with # 1 Derrick Gooch, for a 47-yard pick and catch, which set up Water Valley’s second touchdown five minutes into the game.
Already trailing two touchdowns, when the Bulldogs got the ball the momentum remained in Water Valley’s favor as the wrecking crew defense shut the Bulldogs down with a quick three-and-out. Three plays later the Blue Devils were up 21-0 with a reception by # 80 Derrick Brady to start the drive, and a rushing touchdown by Bounds to end it.
On their next possession, the Bulldogs went three-and-out again, and the Blue Devils special teams had a key block on the punt return, setting up another score by the Blue Devils with nine minutes left in the first half. The punt return was among several breakaways during the contest for returners Hawkins and Derrick Gooch, who each had 20-plus yard returns during the game.
Bulldogs Respond With 33 Unanswered Points
The Bulldogs near comeback effort started on their next possession as the visiting team found the end zone for the first time in the contest and the heat and humidity were clearly working against the Blue Devils. The toil was evident with mental errors leading to penalties for holding and false starts, uncharacteristic to what was exhibited in earlier play in the first half. The half came to a close with the Bulldogs cutting the lead to two touchdowns after a one-play, 80 yard run put six on the scoreboard, ending the half 28-13.
The momentum remained in New Albany’s favor from the beginning of the second half as a quick score from the Bulldog’s offense decreased Water Valley’s lead to 8. The Blue Devil players not only were exhausted but also playing on their heels trying to make arm tackles instead of putting their noses into their opponents when attempting tackles.
From the starters on the field to the players on the sideline, the affect of the heat could be sensed by all spectators. The Blue Devils first drive of the second half ended in a punt, and the Bulldogs scored again making the score 28-26 to begin the fourth quarter. More mental errors and several players coming out of the game with cramps allowed the Bulldogs to capitalize again with another score that pushed them ahead of the Blue Devils for the first time in the game, 33-28.
It appeared the Dogs were going to get their revenge for last season’s beat down, but a poised senior quarter back patiently waited for the right moment to throw yet another long pass, this time to senior wide receiver #1 Derrick Gooch, who was running a vertical up the sideline with the defender right beside him. Everyone held their breath as the ball was tipped around by the Bulldog’s defender, but Gooch maintained outstanding concentration – with the game on the line – reaching out and snagging the ball for a tremendous catch followed by a 70-yard sprint to the end zone to put the Blue Devils up 36-33.
Blue Devil fans thought it was over until New Albany threw a 60-yard reception on the very next play with just two minutes left in the game. Three plays later the Bulldogs set up a 35-yard field goal, but missed to give the Water Valley Blue Devils a 36-33 victory.
After the game Coach Embry responded, “It was a tremendous effort by all our coaches and players to get this win. With so many starters coming out of the game with cramping and heat exhaustion issues, we had to play guys on special teams that had never even played the position, but we were able to tell them what to do on the fly and finished strong in the end to get a victory.”
Friday night Water Valley travels to Coffeeville to play the Coffeeville Pirates in a fun game to watch, the Railroad Rivalry. Kickoff is a 7 p.m.