By JOEL COLEMAN
ACKERMAN – Sometimes, help comes from unexpected places.
Ackerman found out as much Friday night in its thrilling win over rival Eupora.
Trailing late and seemingly on their last leg, the Indians used backup freshman quarterback Jamarcus Bradley and a pair of Eagles special teams miscues to come from behind and capture the 29-25 victory.
“We needed a spark,” said Ackerman head coach Adam Dillinger. “We were having guys go down. We were beat up and got limited, but we found a spark. Thankfully, (Eupora) helped us out a little bit there, but we’ll take it. We needed it and found a way to win it.”
Ackerman’s late surge began courtesy of a mishandled snap on a Eupora punt attempt early in the fourth quarter that set the Indians up with the ball on the Eagles 25-yard line.
With Eupora leading 25-14 at the time, the Eagles’ miscue breathed new life into an Ackerman team desperate for a break.
The Indians (6-2 overall, 3-0 in Class 2A, Region 2) capitalized on the Eagles’ mistake, as K.J. Woods found the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown run, Bradley rushed to add the 2-point conversion and Eupora’s lead was cut to 25-22.
History repeated itself on Eupora’s ensuing possession.
Faced with another fourth-down situation in their own territory, the Eagles mishandled another punt, giving the Indians the ball on the Eupora 22-yard line.
Four plays later, Bradley scampered into the end zone on a 15-yard run, Roman Ramirez added the extra point, and Ackerman was on its way to the win.
Eupora head coach Junior Graham felt as though his club had simply left the door open for Ackerman to take advantage.
“You’ve got to be solid in the kicking game,” said Graham. “We gave them two gifts in the kicking game. Hats off to Ackerman though. They did a great job and never panicked.”
Though Eupora’s special teams blunders delivered Ackerman the ray of hope it needed, Bradley ensured the Indians didn’t let their chance go to waste.
When starting quarterback Dakota Brasher moved to receiver as Ackerman struggled to find some offensive life, Bradley answered the bell.
The electric freshman finished the night with 63 rushing yards, 24 passing yards and two total touchdowns, all of which came in the second half.
“Me as a freshman, I still had to step up for my team,” said Bradley. “They needed me and I helped them.”
Dillinger said turning to Bradley was a strategic move.
“We got depleted up front and we knew we had to do something else,” said Dillinger. “(Eupora) had so many men in the box that we couldn’t line up and just run at them.
“That’s a package we’ve been working on, so we went with it and it worked, so we stuck with it.”
Graham said Bradley’s play was something Eupora wasn’t ready to defend.
“He gave them a good change of pace and it was something we weren’t prepared for,” said Graham. “Other than the kicking (mistakes), he was the difference in the ballgame.”
Bradley’s performance helped overturn a solid three quarters of football from Eupora.
The Eagles (4-4 overall, 1-2 in Class 2A, Region 2) scored the first points of the game on Trey Pittman’s 9-yard run early in the first quarter.
Eupora missed the 2-point conversion however, allowing Ackerman to claim a 7-6 lead later in the quarter following a 29-yard touchdown pass from Brasher to Quinton Lane.
The Eagles’ Lazerick Davis added a touchdown run in the second quarter ahead of another missed 2-point conversion, but Eupora headed to halftime with a 12-7 advantage.
Bradley began displaying his abilities after the intermission, throwing a 27-yard touchdown pass to Lavonte Miller early in the third quarter to put Ackerman back on top 14-12.
The Indians wouldn’t stay up for long though as Eupora got a pair of quick scores – a 15-yard touchdown pass to Tarvis Robinson from Pittman and a 48-yard punt return for a touchdown by Derrick Jones – all within a 2-minute span to put the Eagles in front 25-14.
Soon after, Eupora’s mistakes in the punting game turned the contest in Ackerman’s favor.
The Indians sealed the matchup on an interception by Brasher with just seconds remaining.
“It was crazy,” said Brasher. “We work all year for this one. Coming into this game, we wanted to win it really bad. They got us pretty good last year and we wanted to give them something back.
“We worked hard for this.”