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Blue Devils entering ‘difficult’ unknown in season opener against Eupora

The jamboree games are over, and now the attention shifts to the challenge of the first game of the regular season.

For Water Valley, that challenge comes in the form of the Eupora Eagles. The Blue Devils host them Friday night at 7 p.m. The game can be heard on 105.5 FM.

The teams have not played each other in several years, which poses a challenge for head coach Brad Embry and the rest of the Blue Devils’ staff when it comes to game planning. It is also a double-edged sword.

“It’s hard to scout a team who plays that many kids,” Embry said. “You can look at some of the kids from last year, but it’s still difficult. It’s difficult for them on us, too. It’s not an advantage either way. Worry about yourself right now then maybe game plan against what they’re going to do.”

Embry did get a game film from Eupora’s jamboree over the weekend and was able to see what the Eagles like to do this season, which is rely heavily on the run game. Running was the Eagles’ bread and butter last year as well, but Eupora lost its three best rushers, who totaled 2,095 yards, from a season ago.

Senior Jack Smith is the most productive rusher returning for the Eagles this season. Smith recorded 250 yards on 42 carries and scored two touchdowns.

“They’re going to be a real physical team on both sides of the ball,” Embry said. “They’re going to have a tight end and a fullback most of the time, and they’re going to make you stop the run. If we don’t stop the run, they’re going to have a field day.”

Eupora coach and alum Stephen Edwards returned to his alma mater when he was hired in February. Edwards, a 1989 graduate of EHS, spent 15 years as an assistant coach for the Eagles to begin his coaching career. Seven of those years were spent as the defensive coordinator. Edwards replaces Junior Graham, who was the Eagles’ head coach for the past eight seasons.

The Eagles are coming off a 10-3 campaign and finished third in Region 4-2A with a 2-2 record. Simmons ousted them in the second round of the 2A playoffs.

Much like Water Valley, the Eagles will be breaking in a new starting quarterback. Sophomore Tanner Knight and freshman Edwin Heard are listed as the quarterbacks on Eupora’s roster.

Knight played in four games, completing 10 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown last season.

On the other side of that coin, Water Valley will see action out of their quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Senior Kirkland Horton and sophomore Ty Varner will both man the Blue Devil offense Friday night, and snaps will be dictated by how the game progresses.

During Water Valley’s jamboree against Nettleton Saturday night, each quarterback threw a lengthy touchdown pass and graded out well on film.

“They made some good plays and made some mistakes that we corrected on film and in practice,” Embry said. “I think it was a great learning experience for us. You can’t learn how to play quarterback in a scrimmage or practice. You’ve got to get out there on the field. It’s much different making the reads with that speed and I guess pressure on you. They’re both smart kids and competitive. I don’t have any questions or doubts.”