By JOEL COLEMAN
EUPORA – For a half of basketball Tuesday at Eupora, Eagles head coach Curtis Ford saw his boys team out-shoot, out-rebound and generally out-play Calhoun City.
Then the script flipped.
The Wildcats, sparked by a dominant third quarter run, battled back from their first half doldrums to down the Eagles 72-65.
"First half, we ran our press offense good," said Ford, whose Eagles faced an aggressive Wildcats defense all night long. "They like to press and make you turn the ball over, but we were able to run our even against their odd and vice versa. All of a sudden, the second half, we started trying to do a little too much."
Eupora (4-8) built itself a 37-32 halftime lead and stretched their advantage to 45-36 early in the third quarter before the wheels seemingly fell completely off.
Calhoun City (9-6) broke off a 15-0 run to take a 51-45 lead and never trailed again.
Keying the Wildcats surge was the brief reprieve Ford granted junior Devin Culpepper.
Culpepper, who finished with a double-double, tallying a team-high 19 points to go along with 12 blocks, left the court just prior to the beginning of Calhoun City's game-changing run.
"He got tired," said Ford. "I wasn't going to take him out. He asked to come out, and I had noticed he wasn't moving around too good in there and wasn't jumping as much so I tried to give him a little rest and we missed him."
Culpepper returned to the floor with Eupora's lead cut to one, but the momentum shift was already in motion.
Calhoun City's J.R. Jennings, Demarius Howard and Tavion Primer scored a combined 23 points in the third quarter alone as the Wildcats outscored the Eagles 27-13 in that period.
Jennings, also the quarterback for Calhoun City's Class 2A North championship football team, finished with a game-high 20 points.
Howard was the only other Wildcat to finish in double figures, tallying 17.
Besides Culpepper, three other Eagles tallied at least 12 points.
Jeremy Wright scored 18 while both Derrick Jones and DeShawn Starks were credited with a dozen.
Still, it was Culpepper who caught his coach's eye, even in defeat.
"He's had a couple of quarters like that before, but that's probably the best he's ever played against good competition," said Ford. "Usually, against a team that's quick and aggressive, he'll be a little slow or weak-playing. Tonight, he played strong. He played aggressive and really played good against a team that can play."
Culpepper downplayed his potential breakout performance.
"I'm just trying to play within what my coach gives me," said Culpepper. "Our whole team put in a good effort tonight, we just came up a little bit short. I'm not going to place any blame or take any credit. It's the whole team. There's a lot more I could have done myself tonight."
Eupora returns to action on Friday, hosting O'Bannon.
Calhoun City 50,
EUPORA – A script that Ford has seen all too often this season materialized again Tuesday as the Lady Eagles fell to the Lady Wildcats.
An inspired effort from Ford's youthful roster was erased over the course of the game's final quarter as Eupora, trailing just 33-30 after three periods, was outscored 17-6 in the fourth frame.
"We got in there and lost our control and our composure like seventh and eighth graders tend to do," said Ford. "Plus, I think we got a little winded. But I believe the biggest thing was our inexperience. We were in the game but didn't have the composure to keep going."
Eupora (1-8) was led in scoring by its lone senior, Raishawnda Brantley and sophomore Kalleyah Evans.
Both Brantley and Evans scored 11 points apiece for the Lady Eagles.
Calhoun City (6-6) was the beneficiary of a game-high 19-point performance from Sanca Coffey.
Ariel Fox added 13 points for the Lady Wildcats.
As Coffey and Fox added to their respective point totals late, Ford says Calhoun City was able to use the crowd's energy to surge to the win.
"The crowd kind of got into it a little bit and I think it made us worse instead of making us better," said Ford. "Instead of using the crowd to help us, we started getting overemotional and started getting out of control. Good senior clubs use that crowd to give them a lift, but it's a little different with seventh and eighth graders."
Besides Brantley, no one on Ford's roster is above the sophomore level. With such youth, Brantley says she feels responsible to help the Lady Eagles progress.
"I'm trying (to be a leader) and it's a little hard, but we'll get there," said Brantley. "We're young and the girls need help. We need to talk on defense a little bit more. If we can get our defense right, our offense will come to us."
The Lady Eagles next play on Friday, hosting O'Bannon.