JACKSON – The Eupora Eagles may have lost a 35-0 decision to the Bassfield Yellow Jackets in the Class 2A State championship Friday, but Eupora coach Junior Graham had nothing but good things to say about his team.
His team may have come in second place, but when looking at Friday’s game and the entire season, he was proud of his guys and their efforts.
“We had a really good year," Graham said. "We had a special year and our community has a lot to be proud of. We ran into a buzzsaw down here in a really talented team. Speed kills and it killed us (Friday). It was definitely the difference in the two teams. We are proud of our kids. I thought they played with a lot of class down the stretch and they didn’t quit. You have to give Bassfield all the credit. They are a tremendous football team. In 24 years coaching, 13 as a head coach, that is hands down the best team I’ve coached against.”
It was the third time for the Eagles to compete in the title game and while they were looking for their first championship, the cards were not in the team’s favor.
Throughout the game, the Eagles managed to secure two first downs, post 46 offensive yards on 39 plays and controlled the ball for just over 16 minutes. Compare that to the Yellow Jackets, who had 19 first downs, 495 offensive yards on 61 plays, held the ball for just under 30 minutes and one can see how Bassfield completed its championship victory.
Eupora started the game with a 9-yard run by Vandy Smith up the middle, but was no match for the Yellow Jacket defense as they went three and out and was forced to punt.
Bassfield wasted no time in picking up points as Rod Williams went 65-yards for the first score of the game. Brandon Mancuso followed Williams’ score with a point after attempt that placed the Jackets up 7-0 with 7:35 left to play.
The Eagles were still not able to secure a first down on their next possession going three and out and were forced to punt for the second time in as many possessions.
After starting on their own 39-yard line, Bassfield fumbled the ball and the Eagles recovered it on its own 17-yard line. Eupora was unable to capitalize on the Bassfield turnover and after failing to pick up a first down, Trey Pittman lined up to punt with 3:20 left to play in the first.
Bassfield’s Timothy Arnold managed to block Pittman’s punt. After recovering the ball, Arnold took it 7 yards to place the Yellow Jackets up two scores.
Things continued to go against the Eagles as they fumbled the kickoff to give Bassfield the ball at the Eupora 35-yard line. Again the Yellow Jackets turned an Eagle turnover into points as Jomez Applewhite hit Jeffery Smith with a 26-yard touchdown pass. Brandon Mancuso continued his streak of extra points and with 19 seconds left in the first and increased the lead to 21-0.
The scoring did not stop as the clock wound down. To open the second quarter of play, Jerome Keys capped a 2-play, 61-yard Yellow Jacket drive with a 23-yard touchdown run. Mancuso again stepped in and added the point after.
Following Keys’ score, Eupora’s defense took control of the game as it managed to stop the Yellowjackets on the next two possessions which included a huge third down sack by Jamall Roby.
The defensive success seemed to be infectious as the Eagles managed to pick up their inaugural first down with Pittman hitting Derrick Jones on a swing pass on fourth and four. Things finally seemed to be looking up for Eupora, but it was short lived as the team found itself facing another fourth down. After deciding to go for it, Pittman was intercepted to close the scoring opportunity and the half with a 28-0 Bassfield lead.
Through two quarters, Eupora picked up 41 yards led by Smith who had 17 yards off of seven rushes and Jones with 10 yards on one reception.
The second half was calmer than the first, with only one touchdown being scored in the last two quarters. With 10:18 to go in the third, Trodrick Daniels took the ball 71 yards for the score, which was followed by Mancuso’s fifth successful extra point.
Daniels’ score was the last of the game as defense highlighted the fourth quarter.
Smith ended his final game as an Eagle with 20 yards on 11 carries, while Pittman concluded his night going 2-for-12 for 15 yards.
Keys led the Yellow Jacket charge with 150 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown, followed closely by Daniels who had 138 yards on eight rushes and one score. Applewhite was 3-for-7 for the night for 55 yards with one touchdown and added an additional 19 yards on one carry.
As the game ended, it brought with it the close of Jones’ career as an Eagle and when asked about the game, the wide receiver was complimentary of his teammates even in their defeat.
“It’s heartbreaking, but I’m extremely proud of the seniors and the lower classmen,” Jones said. “They worked extremely hard through the regular season and to go out like this, it’s just heartbreaking.”
Graham closed his night discussing his thoughts on the future and what it means to be saying goodbye to seniors like Jones.
“We have some big shoes to fill next year going into the spring, but we have some good underclassmen and we’re excited about those guys,” Graham said. “We wouldn’t be here without our seniors. I tell them every year that you are only as good as your seniors as far as playing and leadership. We got on their coattails and rode them down here.”