EUPORA – Twice before the Eupora Eagles have lined up for the State championship game and on both occasions, they came up short.
Today, the team is hoping the old adage “third time is a charm” rings true.
The Eagles have prepared for the game and hopefully their first state championship win, but the team does know that the Bassfield Yellowjackets are going to be no easy foe.
“Bassfield is a community that has a ton of tradition,” Eupora coach Junior Graham said. “They have been playing football, good football, championship football for a long period of time and they are extremely talented on both sides of the ball. We are definitely playing the best team and Bassfield is just loaded with talent. There are a lot of talented teams out there, but this team is extremely well-coached and that just compounds the problem.”
The fact that the Yellowjackets are so talented on both sides of the ball is going to present some situations that the Eagles have not seen thus far in the season. For one, Graham points out that “they execute to perfection on offense” while also doing a “good job of disguising coverage” on defense. That execution is a tough challenge alone, but there is still one more thing about Bassfield that will be new for Eupora to face.
“They are unique in the fact that they incorporate their defensive ends into some of their pass defense and for us this is the first time we have had to face that,” Graham said. “Trey (Pittman) is going to have some issues there (today) that he has never seen and hasn’t had to deal with.”
Graham knows that his team understands the challenges that lie ahead when facing a top 10 team, but the Eagles also know that “for 48 minutes you never know what can happen.” That has been the motto for Graham and his staff all week and he says today the team is heading to Jackson to execute the same game plan it has carried all through the playoffs.
It was during a game with Ackerman that Graham says he really saw his team turn around and become the state championship caliber team they are today.
“It started at Ackerman,” Graham said. “Being down at halftime and not panicking, then coming back to win the ballgame and make the playoffs sparked the growth. We really just caught fire. We started tackling a lot better on defense and forcing turnovers and then the big plays on offense just started to multiply.”
Looking ahead to today’s competition with Bassfield, Graham knows that growth is going to help his team especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“I’m old school in that I believe if you are going to play for championships, you better be ready to play defense and we have really grown on the defensive side of the ball,” Graham said. “We are going to be really tested (today), but our defense has held its own.”
The Eagles may be in for a tough test, but that has not hindered their excitement one bit. From quarterback to wide receiver to defensive lineman, all the Eupora players are ready to get out there and compete.
Quarterback Pittman says the experience of playing in the state championship is “indescribable,” while wide receiver Derrick Jones expresses how good it feels to do something not many people before have done. Defensive lineman Patrick Marshall agrees with his teammates’ sentiments commenting on how hard it was to make it this far, but they got there.
After expressing excitement in making it to the State championship game, the trio of athletes turned their focus to what it was going to take to defeat Bassfield.
“We just have to continue what we are doing,” Pittman said. “We are just working hard all practice. We have the same game plan of working hard and just practicing every day like it is our last. I think it will work and hopefully, we will bring it home.”
“I feel we are going to be good on the defensive side of the ball and I think the offensive line is going to do a pretty good job blocking, the backs are going to run good and the receivers are going to make big plays,” Marshall said.
“We know that they are going to run the ball pretty hard,” Jones said. “They are going to hit you on defense and we are going to try and return the favor.”
There is one last thing that Graham and the Eagles are looking forward to when they take the field against Bassfield and that is representing Eupora.
When asked what it means to play for the community, Jones was quick to respond with how good it feels to have “the community behind us” and how that support is motivating the team to go “down there and play the best game of the year.”
Graham echoes his wide receivers comments on how much the support of the community has on the team and just what it would mean to win this game.
“Anytime you get support, it is a snowball effect,” Graham said. “Our kids enjoy it and it helps the program. Anytime a football team wins, it is so good for the community. The majority of the football team reaches out in the community and represents every part of the community. Our community is excited. It would be such an honor to be the head football coach of the first state champions in football at Eupora.”
Kickoff between Eupora and Bassfield is set for 3 p.m. at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson.