ACKERMAN – Eupora is finding out quickly life is much better with Steadman Rice in the fold.
The senior running back/defensive back, playing in his third game since missing the season's first seven contests with a broken leg, found the end zone twice, Deshawn Starks did the same as the Eagles soared past Ackerman 35-16.
Eupora's win, combined with West Lowndes' 62-14 loss to Class 2A, Region 2 champ East Webster, makes the Eagles the division's runner-up and clinches home-field advantage for next week's opening round playoff game against Walnut (8-3)
"Our kids, at times, played really well tonight," said Eupora head coach Junior Graham. "(Ackerman) always does a good job of scheming us, but we made some good adjustments on all that at halftime."
Through the first half, Ackerman (1-10, 0-5 in 2-2A) hung tough with Eupora.
The Eagles (7-3, 4-1 in 2-2A) broke onto the scoreboard first on a 2-yard run by Starks early in the opening quarter.
Ackerman's K.J. Woods evened the score on the first play of the second period with a 19-yard run.
Not long after Woods' game-tying touchdown, the Indians suffered through a three-minute long nightmare that put the Eagles in control.
Looking to punt from deep in their own territory with 6:55 left before halftime, a wild snap saw the ball sail out of the end zone resulting in a safety, giving Eupora a 9-7 lead.
On the ensuing free kick, Rice found pay dirt on a 60-yard scoring return to make it 16-7.
After Ackerman turned the ball over on downs on their next possession, Starks broke off a 36-yard run, stretching the Eagles' advantage to 23-7.
The Indians closed the gap to 23-10 with Caleb McMinn's 22-yard field goal that closed out the first half, but the damage had already been done.
"I thought we responded pretty good," said Ackerman head coach Adam Dillinger. "We went and scored and played ourselves back in the game. Then we came out in the second half and we were moving the ball that first drive as well."
Ackerman's progress was halted early in the third quarter when Woods went down with an injury.
Woods, who finished with 111 yards on 19 carries, was carried by ambulance to Oktibbeha County Hospital. His status was unavailable at press time.
After a nearly 45-minute delay, the game resumed, but the Indians couldn't find a way to battle back.
"K.J. getting hurt, that kind of thing makes it tough to respond," said Dillinger. "Our minds are not on the football field at that time, and they really shouldn't be. You've got a teammate that's hurt and that showed."
The Eagles scored twice in the third quarter on touchdown runs by Rice and quarterback Jamall Roby to go up 35-10.
Ackerman made things closer on a 5-yard scoring run from McMinn with 1:51 left in the game, but the efforts of Rice, Starks, and the Eagles were simply too much to overcome.
"You can really see the difference (in Rice and Starks)," said Graham. "Deshawn is a finesse guy and relies on his speed. Steadman, he gets to going downhill and he's a load."
Graham's talented backfield duo will get to show off their skills next Friday in the playoffs.
Just one year after playing for a Class 2A state title, Ackerman's season is over.
It's the first time the Indians won't see the postseason since 1994.
"It was just one of those years where it seems like nothing went our way," said Dillinger. "It happens that way sometimes."