By JUSTIN AMMON
For Starkville Daily News
CRAWFORD – In a season-opening bout of revenge, the East Oktibbeha Titans trounced Leake County Friday 34-6 in front of their home crowd as senior quarterback Devalyn Bell threw for three touchdowns and ran for two.
The Leake County Gators, who moved up to 2A this fall, defeated the A Titans last year in a bout ending 28-22. South Leake’s rise to a higher division did not intimidate the Titans.
“Our younger guys really stepped up, especially at the skilled positions," East Oktibbeha coach Randy Brooks said. "We got our revenge from last year. Did I expect us to be this dominate? No.”
The Titans came out of the gate shaking off rust, as the Gators quickly took a 6-0 lead early in the first quarter after capitalizing on a Bell interception. But they quickly found their rhythm, keeping Leake County out of the end zone for the remainder of the contest. East Oktibbeha’s smothering, opportunistic defense held the Gators to 166 total yards, while forcing five fumbles, of which the Titans recovered four, an interception and two turn-over-on-downs.
As solid as the Titans defense performed, Bell was even more impressive. Bell went 11-for-21 and tossed three picks – numbers not worthy of a great quarterback rating – but his impact of the game was immeasurable. He accounted for all five Titan touchdowns, throwing three and running for two, the last being a game-capping, elusive 50-yard scamper.
East Oktibbeha was up on Leake County 14-6 at the half and never looked back, extending their lead with one touchdown in the third quarter and two in the fourth.
“We practiced really hard all week,” Bell said. “Coach told us to give 110 (percent) and that’s what we did.”
The Titans ran a fluid spread offense against the Gators, usually setting up in 3-wide formations. Unafraid to heave a deep ball, East Oktibbeha took multiple shots down field with hopes of gaining big chunks of yardage. Jump balls in the end zone became common place.
“I always look at the defense and try to find the mismatch,” said Bell. “Coach would just tell me to find it and hit the receiver in stride.”
Bell found senior running back/defensive back Terrence Rice twice for a score as he overpowered his defender and also threw a touch down to senior Kody Petty.
Brooks said he ran the single-wing formation when he arrived at East Oktibbeha three years ago because “there wasn’t four kids in the school who could catch a ball.” That offense has since spread out and now seems to favor the pass due to reliable senior receivers.
“When Terrence (Rice), Kody (Petty) and Arthur (Gillespie) were freshman, we would throw balls to them all day. The seven-on-seven really paid off.”
In the midst of stifling heat and humidity, Friday’s contest displayed a multitude of cramps from both squads as referees were forced to call injury timeouts several times up throughout the game.
In the glow of such an impressive outing, Brooks quickly singled out conditioning as an area his team needs improvement in.
“A lot of my guys apologized to me after the game for cramping up so much,” he said. “My teams don’t catch cramps. Our conditioning is tough, we work really hard. We’ll work on that.”