EUPORA – Eupora's season couldn't have gotten off to a worse start, but an early lump wasn't enough to down the Eagles.
Houston's Devoris Ivy returned the game's opening kickoff 94 yards to give the Hilltoppers an early lead before Eupora rebounded to snag a 22-13 win.
"I think our guys were really excited about the start of football season and we ran down the field with a lack of discipline and got out of our lanes," said Eupora head coach Junior Graham of Ivy's touchdown return. "We had enough of something about us though that we were able to take the field, drive the ball down and get a score right back."
On that Eupora scoring drive, the Eagles went 70 yards on nine plays before quarterback Jamall Roby hit Derrick Jones with a 9-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone. Jeremy Wright punched in Eupora's 2-point conversion attempt to give the Eagles an 8-7 lead. They wouldn't trail again.
Roby, a sophomore starting his first varsity game, finished 4-of-8 passing for 48 yards and the touchdown.
More importantly, he avoided critical mistakes.
"Other than a couple of snaps bobbled, he did a good job," said Graham. "He threw the ball away late in the game, letting us live for another down, when all the receivers were covered. He ran time off the clock late in the game when we were trying to manage the clock. He got deep into the play clock. That tells you that he's growing as a quarterback, and those are things he'll just get better at."
Eupora extended their lead to 22-7 prior to halftime on a pair of short-yardage runs from Jeremy Wright.
Graham was particularly proud of Wright's second score, just 55 seconds before halftime.
"That was big," said Graham. "(Houston) was a little fatigued there late in the second quarter and we had enough fresher bodies at skill positions at the time. We were rotating guys in and we were able to put the ball in the end zone."
Conditioning ended up playing a large part in the outcome of the game. Whereas Houston battled cramping issues throughout the night, Eupora toughed out the heat and humidity with significantly fewer problems.
"Especially on a couple of late first downs in the fourth quarter, I felt we showed another gear about us that maybe (Houston) didn't have," said Graham. "I thought conditioning-wise, if you can play on nights like this, you're both in good shape and extremely well-hydrated."
Save for the opening kickoff, Eupora allowed just six points defensively. The Houston score came midway through the fourth quarter when Ivy scored on a 9-yard reverse play.
Deshawn Starks led the Eagles defensive corp, hauling in a pair of interceptions to halt Hilltopper drives.
"It feels good," said Starks. "I had to show out some kind of way since this is the last time I'll play a first game."
Next week, Eupora travels to Weir for a Thursday night game to battle Graham's former team.
After seeing his current squad battle through their first game, Graham knows exactly what the Eagles have to work on before facing the Lions.
"We're going to have to do a better job of not allowing leakage (on the offensive line)," said Graham. "We feel like Weir will bring pressure with their athletes, so we have to be ready."