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Blue Devils rally past Tigers in second half to end losing streak

WINONA — The first half of the Water Valley football season resembled a small boat stuck in a hurricane. Tough loss after tough loss gave the Blue Devils little to look forward to.

That changed after a surprising new pass-oriented game plan from Water Valley (2-4) shocked Winona (5-1), leaving the home crowd speechless as the Blue Devils snapped their four-game losing streak with a 20-9 win Friday.

On the first Blue Devil drive, Water Valley ran six pass plays. Unusual to their standard offensive scheme, the line seemed to rack up holding calls throughout the first half. The Blue Devils failed to score but proved that their receivers would have no trouble shaking their defenders, a theme that would hold true the entire game.

The first score came with less than a minute to play in the first quarter with Winona striking first by blocking a punt that fell directly into the hands of defensive lineman Jeda Finchis in the end zone. After another four-play drive ending with another failed punt, Winona had the ball deep in Blue Devil territory.

Water Valley managed to stop repeated attempts to score, but Wade Vail eventually kicked a 17-yard field goal to put the Tigers up 9-0 early in the second quarter. That would be the last score on the day for Winona as the Blue Devils hit a switch and never looked back, scoring 20 unanswered points.

With slightly more than five minutes left in the half, a pass over the middle was hauled in by Water Valley receiver Daniel Fleming. Fleming made a spectacular one-handed catch that seemed to change momentum in favor of the Blue Devils as on the next play, a halfback pass from Mark Gooch found Quez Towns for what was initially believed to be a touchdown but was ruled down at the 1-yard line. Kirkland Horton scampered into the end zone to cap the drive with the Blue Devils trailing only by two at halftime.

Taking the lead
Quarterback Ty Varner led the passing explosion with 228 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown pass to Towns, who finished with 132 yards receiving and one touchdown, on the first play of the second half. The Blue Devils had their first lead of the day and forced Winona to play with their backs against the wall for the rest of the game.

“Ty made good decisions, and we did a good job. You are never going to play the perfect game, but you strive for it,” Water Valley coach Brad Embry said. “During that strive, you need to play with great effort, great intensity, great enthusiasm, and that’s what we did and I am very proud of them. They all came to practice, and they all practiced hard. We are all human and may not be in the best moods, but we are practicing and that’s the key to getting through bad times. Consistent commitment and never taking your eyes off the goal.”

The Blue Devil defense rose to the occasion and kept the Tigers from scoring despite multiple turnovers that gave Winona ideal field position. With almost two minutes left in the third quarter, Water Valley defensive playmaker Keegan Faustin recovered a fumble and returned it 95 yards for the final Blue Devil score. The wind had been removed from Winona’s sails, and the Tigers lost their first game against a Water Valley team that seemed to be firing on all cylinders.

“We’ve got a good taste in our mouths from tonight but still have to go to work Monday,” Embry said in regards to this week.

The Blue Devils will start Region 2-3A play Friday, traveling to Charleston (4-2) as they look to continue their production through the air in hopes of turning the season around and winning two consecutive games, something Water Valley has failed to do all season.