Area preview: 'Highway 9 Bowl' rivalry strong with Choctaw County, Eupora

Staff Writer

For as long as anyone has been alive in Webster and Choctaw County, Eupora and Ackerman has been a bitter rivalry to the core.

For years, the Eagles and Indians went head-to-head in the same classification and many championships were decided within that game. When the name changed at Ackerman High School to Choctaw County High School a few years ago due to consolidation, the Indians became the Chargers, the school went from Class 2A to Class 3A and the rivalry was no more.

The “Highway 9 Bowl” wasn’t played for two years before coming back in 2015. Since that time, it’s slowly built back to what it was for years around central Mississippi. Add in the fact that the two teams enter 3-1 for the year for the second-straight season and it’s a game to watch this weekend.

The 2016 version of the game ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Eagles as they missed a game-winning field goal on their home field. Eupora returned the favor with a 28-21 victory in Ackerman last year, but that result helped turn the season around for the Chargers as they won seven-straight games and a region title.

Choctaw County head coach Ben Ashley said it will be another tough contest this season.

“It’s a big deal to our kids and a big deal to our community, and we want to win the football game,” Ashley said. “We’re in a little bit different position than last year. Last year I thought we were clicking pretty good offensively, but I don’t have that same feeling. It’s going to take our best effort.”

The Chargers have a loss to the defending Class 2A North State champions of Winona from week two, but they’ve taken each of the last two games coming in. Though they’ve racked up nearly 300 yards a game on the ground already, they’ll be without leading rusher Rakeim Ashford this week who has 20 carries for 252 yards and three touchdowns.

Ashley said there’s a good chance that a freshman or two could get opportunities this week, but they’ll have several different players to rely on to win the game.

For Eupora, it is coming off of a three-game winning streak after falling to Class 3A Water Valley in the opening weekend. The Eagles have ridden the back of signal caller Edwin Herard, who has 46 carries for 325 yards and four touchdowns, but he’s also getting the job done through the air.

After throwing for 5 yards in the opening game, Herard has put up nearly 340 yards the last three games with seven touchdowns. The threat of the passing attack and wide receiver Cam’Ron Culpepper has helped make a difference.

“We understood that we probably needed to throw the ball a little more and get some people off of us," Eupora coach Stephen Edwards said. "We know that we can run the ball, but you’ve got to compliment it against good defensive teams. Choctaw is real good on defense so it’s one of those games where we have to be able to run and pass or they’ll shut us down.”

The stands at Eupora will be packed on both sides, as will the hills and fence line this evening. It’s all set to be an exciting renewal of one of the toughest rivalries in the area.

“It’s going to be a big game for us,” Edwards said. “I’m super excited because both teams won a couple of games in a row. They’re well-coached and have some depth and we don’t have a whole lot of depth on our side. I expect it will be a great atmosphere and great competition, though.”

East Webster at Strayhorn

The first few weeks have been a grind for the young Wolverines of Cumberland and Ron Price is trying to get his players to survive the setbacks before heading into Class 2A, Region 2 play in two weeks.

Last week was the floor for the Wolverines as they were dispatched on their home field 51-0 by Starkville Academy.

East Webster (1-3) has also lost to area opponent Choctaw County 42-13 and let a game slip away against Okolona in the first couple of games.

This week will be an opportunity for the Wolverines to get some footing as they play a struggling Strayhorn team on the road. The Mustangs are 0-4 and none of their games have been close against Winona, Coahoma, Magnolia Heights and Holly Springs.

With the Maroon Bowl against Eupora two weeks away, the game this week and then next week against J.Z. George could be games that boost the confidence of a team that has lacked it early on. A playoff spot is already secure based on the numbers inside the division, but they’ll want positioning for the playoffs to make a run and region play will supply those opportunities.