By JOEL COLEMAN
EUPORA – It's just three games into the season, but the Eupora Eagles have already learned it's not always better to give than receive.
Two weeks after coughing up the ball six times in a home loss to French Camp, the Eagles returned to Eupora Friday and took advantage of four first-half Winona turnovers in a 34-27 win.
"Us being opportunistic in the first half was, by far, the difference in the game," said Eupora head coach Junior Graham. "We got a lot of turnovers and we protected the ball pretty well ourselves. All in all, you could see some growth in our guys and that's what we expected."
Lazerick Davis rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns for Eupora, while Vandy Smith added 98 yards and a pair of scores in a contest that saw the Eagles build a comfortable lead early on thanks to Winona's miscues, then have to hold off the charging Tigers late.
"With (four turnovers), you're not going to beat a whole lot of people," said Winona head coach Ken Chandler. "But the guys didn't quit and it was fun watching that. Just to see them fight, scratch and claw to try and come back, it's all you can ask for."
Despite Winona's late tenacity, it was the early blunders that turned out to be the difference-maker.
Eupora (2-1) immediately turned three of Winona's four turnovers into touchdowns as the Eagles mounted a 27-6 lead by halftime.
That score held until the fourth quarter when Winona crept closer on a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dillon Toth to LaCharles Washington, cutting Eupora's lead to 27-13 after the extra point.
Eupora's ensuing possession resulted in a two-play, 64-yard drive that was capped off on a 46-yard touchdown scamper by Smith, stretching the Eagles' advantage to 34-13 with just 9:14 to play following Savon Daughtery's extra point.
The Tigers (1-2) wouldn't fold.
Over the course of the next 7 minutes, Winona put together two touchdown drives that culminated with Patrick Purnell scoring runs, his second and third touchdowns of the night.
"We play a lot of young guys on the defensive side of the ball," said Graham. "There's going to be some growing pains. But you've got to give credit to Winona."
Eupora thwarted Winona's late surge just seconds later by recovering an onside kick and ran out the rest of the clock.
It was a win Smith was glad to have.
"You've got to respect (Winona)," said Smith. "They fight every time we play them."
Eupora will try and carry the momentum from Friday's win into next week as the Eagles travel to Maben to battle West Oktibbeha on Thursday night.
"We've got a short week to prepare for a totally different type of offense," said Graham. "It's no doubt we're going to have our hands full."