Eagles win season opener at French Camp

By Jacqueline Meek Eupora Football Boosters

The 2012 Eupora High School football Eagles traveled to French Camp to play their first game of the season Friday evening. The Eagles, led by Coach Junior Graham, defeated the Panthers, 20-10.

It is a quite pleasant ride to French Camp from Eupora, mostly down the beautiful and serene Natchez Trace. The Council House Restaurant is located there and is where some fans enjoyed their pregame meal. A turkey sandwich, broccoli salad and Mississippi Mudcake make a meal that’s hard to beat.

Also hard to beat are the French Camp Panthers. They hosted the Eagles at their field, which the PA announcer called the “Panther House.” A huge sign on the press box on the home side of the field read “Panther Nation” and a pair of hostile, yellow, feline eyes glared at the field and the visitors’ bleachers.

A large crowd attended the game. Eupora was well represented and it seemed that the crowd was about evenly divided between Eagle and Panther fans.

The weather was good. The sun was shining brightly. The visitors’ bleachers faced west and the sun was quite warm for a few minutes before the game. But, the sun soon went down behind the trees and the fans became comfortable.

Thunderclouds were in the sky though none that seemed close enough to threaten the game. As the night grew darker, distant lightning flashed in the night sky to the south. The lightning was far enough away that no thunder was ever heard and no rain ever fell. Eventually the lightning stopped too.

The French Camp fans, on the sideline, and the French Camp team, as they warmed up on the field, were dressed in bright blue. The color, certainly much brighter than navy blue, might be royal blue or dodger blue.

The mascot was a bright blue panther who bore not a trace of the pink of his more famous cousin. He roamed the sidelines before and during the game.

The Eagles, dressed in road white uniforms, came back onto the field at 7:15. The captains were Derrick Jones, Marquis Willis and Lazerick Davis. French Camp won the toss and deferred to the second half. The Eagles elected to receive the opening kickoff.

Jones received the opening kickoff for the Eagles, just inside the 5- yard line. He sped straight ahead through a scattered group of Panthers, then ran to his left and down the field for a touchdown. Justin Lewis kicked the extra point.

This was quite an auspicious opening to the Eagles’ brand new season. They led 7-0 only seconds into the game. The Eagle fans were ecstatic and the Eagle mascot herself danced happily.

Other notable events of the first quarter included the Eagles’ first punt of the season, by quarterback Trey Pittman. The punt was a well- executed quick kick from passing formation on fourth and long. Also, during the heat timeout at the middle of the quarter, the clock ran for about 20 seconds before it was noticed and stopped.

In the second quarter, the Panthers struck back. A French Camp cornerback ran about 35 yards for a touchdown after stealing the ball from a Eupora running back. The extra point was kicked and at 7:29 of the second quarter, the game was tied.

Right before the half, the Panthers put together their best drive of the game, and moved the ball inside the Eagle 20-yard line. But the Eagle defense asserted itself and stopped them there. So, on fourth down and long, the Panthers kicked a field goal as time expired in the first half. The score at the half was French Camp 10, Eupora 7.

The Pride of Eupora Marching Band was at the game, under the direction of bandleader Chad Hawkins. They did not perform at halftime, but their presence and performance throughout the game was greatly entertaining for the fans and a source of inspiration for the team. The Eupora High School cheerleaders, under the direction of cheer coach Lyn Blaylock, did a great job all night in keeping up the excitement and spirit of the team and fans.

Although French Camp did not have a marching band, Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” occasionally blared over the PA system throughout the game.

French Camp received the second-half kickoff and began another drive. It kept the ball for almost five minutes but eventually the Eagle defense stopped the Panthers and the ball went over on downs to Eupora.

Then, on three consecutive plays, Pittman hit wide receiver Jones for a first down, Lamonte Salley ran for a first down, and Pittman threw to Jones again, this time for a 44-yard touchdown that came at 6:16 of the third quarter. The extra point was blocked. Eupora led 13-10 and that score held through the rest of the third quarter.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Pittman threw another touchdown pass to Jones. The play was good for 25 yards and gave Jones the “hat trick” as he scored his third touchdown of the contest. Lewis kicked the extra point and Eupora led 20-10.

The Panthers had no luck with the Eagle defense for the remainder of the game and gave up the football on downs for the final time with less than one minute left in the game. The Eagles then lined up in their victory formation and after quarterback Pittman took a knee, time expired and the Eagles had won the game by the 20-10 score.

After the game Coach Graham gathered his team on the grass of the Panther House. After addressing the team and applauding them for their tenacity and the good result, he led prayer and released them to the locker room.

On Saturday, having viewed the film, Coach Graham said that he and his staff were pleased with the Eagles’ effort. He admitted that the team made some mental errors but thought that, for a first game, things went pretty well. Coach added that in spite of the youth of the offensive line the Eagles had six runs for more than 10 yards and protected their quarterback well.

Coach specifically mentioned the outstanding passing of Pittman and the play of Jones. “Derrick is one of the best, if not the best, wide receivers we’ve had since I’ve been at Eupora.”

Coach Graham was pleased to report that the Eagles had suffered no injuries.

The Eagles ran the ball 24 times for 101 yards, an average of 4.2 yards per carry. The Eagles passed 21 times and completed 12 for 175 yards. French Camp ran the ball 44 times for 145 yards, an average of 3.3 yards per carry. The Panthers completed one pass for 4 yards on three attempts. Total offense was Eupora 276 yards, French Camp 149 yards.

Eupora was led in rushing by Vandy Smith with seven carries for 36 yards. Jones caught eight passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Pittman completed 12 passes in 20 attempts for 175 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions.

On defense, Smith led with seven tackles, Markelle Eichelberger had six, Savon Daughtery had six, and Beau Smith had three tackles, three assists and one sack.

This week, the Noxapater Tigers will come to Wofford Field in Eupora to take on the Eagles at 7:30 on Friday night. Noxapater is the defending 1-A state champion and will present one of the most difficult challenges of the season for the improving Eagles. This should be an exciting game and all Eagles fans are urged to come and support our team. Go Eagles!