Big plays by Eupora during the Class 2A North Half Championship doomed Bruce's chances of a trip to Jackson as the Eagles advanced with a 31-28 win over the Trojans.
“Once we get a chance to sit back and reflect and let this hurt get over, this is an amazing team," Bruce Coach James Ray said. "They did a lot of great things all year."
Eupora opened the game with one of those big plays. Derrick Jones, the 6'3" Ole Miss commitment, returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown. Jones raced three times from sideline to sideline behind his own 20 yard line, eluding Bruce tacklers, before getting to the corner and racing the distance.
"He was by far the best player we've seen all year," Ray said.
The Trojans immediately answered with a 77-yard touchdown drive. The big plays on the drive came on passes from QB Davis Brown to Shaq Bush, Terrance Jones and Donta Armstrong. Zay Armstrong recorded the touchdown on a 1-yard run. The extra point missed for a 7-6 Eupora lead.
The Eagles were driving on the ensuing possession when Rashad Turner intercepted Eupora QB Trey Pittman at the 12-yard line and returned it 88 yards down the Trojan sideline for a touchdown to the screams of the Bruce crowd. Another missed extra point left Bruce with a 12-7 lead with 1:32 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Trojans' momentum continued when Eupora fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Pat Gardner pounced on it for Bruce at the Eagle 28 yard line.
Eupora then answered with a scoring drive of their own. Pittman scored on a 5-yard bootleg run. Eupora elected to go for two and the Trojan defense stuffed the run up the middle to hold on to an 18-13 lead with 7:51 left in the first half.
After an exchange of punts and a big third down sack by Deshawn Tillman for the Trojans, Bruce regained possession at the Eupora 40 yard line with just over three minutes left in the half.
Zay Armstrong weaved his way for a 20-yard run setting up a 33-yard field goal. After missed three extra points, Tyler Donovan split the uprights from 33 yards out to increase the Trojans' halftime lead to 21-13.
Bruce opened the second half with possession and after a big pass play to Donta Armstrong were across midfield and driving, but on fourth and long, Brown was intercepted at the goal line by Vandy Smith who returned it back to the 40.
After a 3-and-out, Eupora took over at the Bruce 43 and immediately capitalized. Jones slipped behind the Bruce defense and Pittman hit him with a 43-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the third quarter. Bruce held on the 2-point conversion for a 21-19 lead.
Bruce was again forced to punt on their next possession and the Eagles took over at their own 25. Pittman again got behind the defensive backfield and Pittman hit him in stride for an easy 75-yard touchdown pass. Eupora again failed to convert on the 2-point try for a 25-21 lead with just over 10 minutes to play.
After a holding penalty backed the Trojans up to the 10 on the ensuing possession, Brown was picked of again by Eupora’s Vandy Smith who returned it 24 yards for a touchdown. The extra point missed for a 31-21 score with 9:43 to play.
The Trojans immediately answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive in their no-huddle offense. Donta Armstrong scored the touchdown on a 23-yard strike from Brown over the middle. Donovan added the extra point to pull Bruce within 31-28 with 5:51 to play.
The Bruce defense forced a Eupora punt on the ensuing possession and the Trojans regained possession at their own 11-yard line with 3:27 to play.
Runs by Brown and Zay Armstrong carried Bruce across the 30. Bruce converted a fourth and one and a Brown to Bush pass put them at the Eagle 45.
A leaping catch in the middle of the field by Donta Armstrong gave Bruce a first and 10 at the Eupora 20 with 33 seconds to play.
Davis Brown then took a shotgun snap and threw to the corner of the endzone where Eupora's Rusty Brown was the only player in the area and made a diving interception at the 3-yard line to seal the win for the Eagles.
"Davis calls all our plays for us in that lightning package and he was doing a great job moving us down the field," Ray said. "Unfortunately we couldn’t get off a jam and threw a pick in the end zone.”
"We said coming into this game it would come down to who made the fewest mistakes and we made too many," Ray said.
The Trojans' finished with an 11-4 record.
"I can't say enough for this group of seniors. They've played all four years, having to start as freshman," Ray said. "Those first two years were difficult. They could have easily quit, but they stuck together and came to the North Half Championship and fought their guts out."
Eupora, 14-1, will advance to play Bassfield for the 2A championship Friday in Jackson.
Photos and story by Joel McNeece, Calhoun County Journal ©