EUPORA – It was a thrilling way to win a North State championship for the Eupora Eagles.
In a back and forth game, the Eagles defeated the Bruce Trojans 31-28 to claim the Class 2A North Half title and advanced to the State championship game.
“I am proud for those kids,” Eupora coach Junior Graham said. “They are 14-1 with a chance to play for the gold ball. They had every chance to quit (Friday) and they didn’t. They don’t hit the panic button. They just come out and played. For that, they just won a North Half championship.”
Eupora’s Derrick Jones reinforced his all-star selection as the senior opened play with an impressive 80-yard kickoff return to strike first for the Eagles. Justin Lewis was then good for the extra point to place the score at 7-0.
It did not take long for the Trojans to find their way onto the board.
After driving 77 yard, Bruce answered with a 1-yard touchdown run by Zay Armstrong. After a botched extra point attempt the score stood 7-6 Eupora with 6:57 left to play.
The defense struck next as Rashad Turner picked off Trey Pittman and went 97 yards to give Bruce its second touchdown. The Trojans’ kick went off the goal post for their second missed extra point of the night.
Bruce continued the scoring show as Davis Brown found the end zone on a 1-yard quarterback sneak, and after their third missed extra point of the night, the Trojans were ahead 18-6 with 10:49 left in the second quarter.
Trey Pittman followed the quarterback scoring suit with a 5-yard bootleg. Following Pittman’s score, Eupora went for two and was unsuccessful in its attempt.
With 53 seconds to go in the half, Bruce finally managed to split the uprights as Tyler Donovan was successful on a 35-yard field goal to make it 21-13 Trojans at the half.
Following the halftime break, both teams produced several defensive stops. Eupora ended the scoring drought as Pittman hit Jones with a 44-yard touchdown pass as time expired in the third quarter. The Eagles again attempted the two-point conversion and were again stopped shy of the goal.
Not long into the fourth quarter Pittman once again found Jones for the score. This time the quarterback hit his receiver with a 75-yard pass to place the Eagles up 25-21.
Eupora’s defense struck next as Vandy Smith garnered a pick six off Brown to place the Eagles up 10 with 9:43 left to play.
The Trojans then cut into the scoring gap as Brown connected with Donta Armstrong on a 24-yard touchdown pass. Donovan followed with a successful extra point attempt to bring Bruce within three.
Bruce then managed to stop the Eagles to get one final chance. After a successful fourth and two, the Trojans were poised to score, but Eupora had other plans. With 33 seconds left Rusty Johnson intercepted Brown to secure an Eagles’ victory and the North Half championship.
“I am so proud for that young man,” Graham said of Johnson. “The smallest man on the field made one of the biggest plays of the night. He’s 5-foot-4 and everyone tries to pick on him. They tried to run a smash mouth on him at the end and he got over the top of it and made the play.”
Jones led the Eagles’ charge with 141 yards on five receptions and two touchdowns. Jones picked up an additional touchdown off his kickoff return. Including the two passing touchdowns with Jones and his solo rushing score, Pittman ended his night with three touchdowns and went 10-for-18 for 183 yards. Defensively, the Eagles picked up three huge interceptions courtesy of Smith and Johnson.
After the game, an emotional Jones spoke on what the win meant to him and what he expects heading to Jackson.
“I can’t explain it,” said Jones. “It’s the best feeling of my life. I’ve never been down there before and heading down there, I expect the same thing out of my teammates that they gave (Friday night).”
Pittman echoed his receiver’s comments on the impact of Friday’s victory.
“It just means a lot. To lead my team down there, do my part and all the other guys did what they were supposed to do, it’s just indescribable,” Pittman said.
Graham knows that this victory extends beyond the Eagles roster and all the way into the heart of the community.
“There is nothing like a winning football team to bring a community together,” Graham said. “Last season you couldn’t give a Eupora ticket away and (Friday night), well you saw the response. It is great for a community and I am just tickled to death for Eupora.”
Eupora will line up for its final game of the season next Friday, as it faces Bassfield in the Class 2A State championship. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m., at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson.