By JOEL COLEMAN
Some football teams crumble when faced with adversity.
Yet as Eupora gets ready for arguably its biggest game of the season to this point, the Eagles are learning how to thrive under less-than-ideal circumstances.
Three weeks ago when Eupora traveled to Calhoun City, Eagles starting quarterback Jamal Roby suffered a season-ending injury in the form of a broken fibula.
While tragic for Eupora's junior signal-caller, Eagles head coach Junior Graham says his team has used the unfortunate event to renew focus and rally around freshman backup quarterback Trey Pittman ahead of tonight's 7 p.m. Class 2A, Region 2 game at Hamilton.
"You probably couldn't have asked for any more out of a freshman," said Graham of Pittman, who started his first game last week in the Eagles' 52-0 win over J.Z. George. "Being thrown into the fire like (Pittman's) been thrown into, he's responded.
"Really, the whole team has responded. They've all picked up their level of play just a little bit with Jamal being out. You hate something like (Roby's injury) has to occur for all that to happen, but it happened and the team is carrying a lot more of the load."
Eupora's improved team demeanor bodes well for the Eagles (4-2 overall, 1-0 in district play) ahead of tonight's key showdown against the Lions (6-1 overall, 1-0 in district play).
While it's tough to deem any one game at this point in the season as an absolute must-win, both Eupora and Hamilton recognize tonight's contest has enormous importance in the grand scheme of the 2011 season.
Graham also understands his Eagles better be ready for arguably their toughest test to date in the homestanding Lions.
"They have really good skill people," said Graham of Hamilton. "It all starts with their quarterback. He's made a lot of big plays for them this year. There's good chemistry between him and the fullback. They do a good job in the play-action game.
"On the defensive side of the ball, their defensive linemen are all really good players. They've got several seniors and they play like a senior team."
Ironically, as Hamilton relies on its upperclassmen tonight, Eupora will place a lot of its trust in the freshman Pittman.
While Pittman will only be starting his second high school game under center, Graham has faith in his quarterback.
"Trey can really manage that side of the ball," said Graham. "We haven't overwhelmed him. Our offense is now real basic, but he's done a good job."
East Oktibbeha (5-1, 3-0)
at Noxapater (4-3, 4-0)
East Oktibbeha comes off of its bye week with a 7 p.m. road game tonight at Noxapater.
Both the Titans and Tigers are unbeaten in Class A, Region 3 play, but East Oktibbeha head coach Randy Brooks hopes his team's week off gives them the edge in this key divisional matchup.
"We used the bye week to get well, get better and get some players back that had some injuries," said Brooks. "(Against Noxapater) we're just going to have to play good, sound defense and our special teams has to do their part. We're really going to have to be solid in all three phases of the game."
Ethel (2-5, 0-4)
at West Oktibbeha (4-2, 2-1)
West Oktibbeha hosts Ethel tonight in a 7 p.m. homecoming game featuring two Class A, Region 3 teams heading in opposite directions.
While Ethel enters tonight having lost its last four contests, West Oktibbeha has won two in a row as the Timberwolves seem to have recaptured a bit of their early-season momentum that was lost following a pair of losses to Eupora and Nanih Waiya.
For West Oktibbeha to continue surging, Timberwolves head coach Adam Lowrey says the script is somewhat basic for his squad this week.
"We've just got to execute," said Lowrey. "We need to make sure that we're doing what we do – throwing and catching the ball, linemen being together on run blocking and pass blocking, and just being fundamentally sound both offensively and defensively."
Ackerman (4-3, 1-0)
at Williams-Sullivan (0-7, 0-1)
Ackerman follows up a big divisional road victory at East Webster with another Class 2A, Region 2 matchup tonight at 7 p.m. against winless Williams-Sullivan in Durant.
After the Indians sputtered at times last week in the triumph over the Wolverines, Ackerman head coach Adam Dillinger says his team's goals for tonight are simply to play a cleaner game.
"We want to get a little better execution," said Dillinger. "We were far from perfect (against East Webster), so we felt like this week (in practice), it was important to focus on us getting better at the things we do.
"We also wanted to try and get some folks healthy this week. We scaled back on a few things, which isn't something we like to do, but we felt like we needed to get some guys back that have been hurt because we've got a tough stretch coming up."
East Webster (3-4, 0-1)
at J.Z. George (0-7, 0-1)
After losing its district opener at home to Ackerman last week, East Webster hits the road tonight for another Class 2A, Region 2 game at 7 p.m. against J.Z. George.
J.Z. George enters tonight's game having not scored a single point since Sept. 9.
Over their last three games, the Jaguars have been outscored 133-0.
With J.Z. George's recent struggles coupled with East Webster's solid showing in defeat against Ackerman last week, Wolverines head coach Doug Wilson likes his team's chances tonight.
Even after losing to the Indians last Friday, Wilson said his team continues to improve.
"We made a few mistakes, but we made a lot fewer than we've been having," said Wilson following last week's game. "We feel good coming into (tonight)."