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WATER VALLEY PREVIEW: Devils look to build on momentum vs. Wildcats

It has been a work in progress for the Water Valley football team, and coach Brad Embry has seen improvement from week to week in the early part of the season.

After earning their first win with a 34-20 victory over rival Coffeeville last Friday, the Blue Devils (1-1) aim to start a winning streak when they travel to Calhoun City (1-1) Friday night. The game can be heard on 105.5 FM.

In its Railroad Rivalry win last week, the offense picked up as the game progressed, including scoring 20 points in the second half.

“We just settled down a little bit,” Embry said. “Our offensive line did pretty well. We stopped making some unforced errors, bad snaps and fumbles. We got most of it out of our system in the first quarter.”

The run game appeared to find itself for Water Valley as Julian Williams and Taghee James combined for 180 yards on 45 carries. Williams has racked up 146 yards on 40 carries in the first two games of the season.

The progressions continued on a positive trend for sophomore quarterback Ty Varner. Varner made his first career start for Water Valley and completed 4 of 8 passes for 72 yards and one touchdown.

With Kirkland Horton still out with a hamstring injury, the offense is Varner’s to control heading into this week and the foreseeable future.

“(Varner) is getting better. He’s practicing well and doing the things we want him to do,” Embry said. “That’s a big step for a kid starting the season out and is a sophomore. He’s working hard in practice, and I’ve seen improvement.”

Reaggravating an injury he suffered during the summer early in the first game of the season against Eupora, Horton, who missed a game for the first time in his career last week, is listed as day-to-day. His return cannot come soon enough for a Blue Devil defense that is missing its key component.

“We’re looking forward to getting him back when he’s able to,” Embry said. “He’s a great kid and a really good player for us. I hate that he missed that game. It was hard on him, and it really hit home with him.”

In his absence, Embry said senior linebacker Keegan Faustin has stepped up and become a leader for the defense.

Calhoun City comes into the game after losing to Houston, 9-6, last week. The Wildcats have relied heavily on the run game in the first two weeks, racking up more than 300 yards on the ground. Calhoun City spreads the rush attempts out among four players. Sophomore JoJo Gray leads the Wildcats with 90 yards on 18 carries. Behind Gray are seniors Jaalen Thomas (84 yards), Brieton Sykes (73) and Jesse Nabors (47).

Last season, the Wildcats rushed for 243 yards in a 28-7 win over Water Valley. Thomas, Sykes and Nabors combined for 192 yards.

“They’re really run-heavy, but they’re multiple formations,” Embry said. “You’ve got to find where (Sykes) and (Nabors) and a couple other guys are every play. They line them up in all different formations. Sometimes they’re decoys and sometimes it’s to get them the ball. You’ve got to be careful.”

—jake.thompson@oxfordeagle.com