By Tommy Gladney
A Grateful Fan
We didn’t know it at the time, but Oct. 12, 2012, was a red letter day as far as Eupora High School football is concerned.
Friday night, Oct. 12, on Wofford Field, Eupora played Ackerman High School for the last time. Eupora won the game by a score of 22 to 18. That game and that score ended one of the greatest high school football rivalries in the state of Mississippi and possibly the entire South.
We played Ackerman a total of 77 times with five games ending in a tie. That leaves 72 games of which Eupora won 38 and Ackerman 34. Although Eupora won the rival series by four games, several other statistics shed light on the intensity of the competition.
First, from 1936 until 1953, Eupora did not beat Ackerman a single game. From that point in time, the Eagles had a tremendous amount of ground to make up, which they were obviously able to do. Concerning the number of points scored during our two schools’ 77 meetings, Eupora won in that category by 1,368 points compared to Ackerman’s 1,359 — a difference of only nine points.
Average points scored per game is a statistical dead heat — Eupora at 17.7 points per game and Ackerman with 17.6. If you are wondering who got the worst beating during those years, well that category couldn’t be any closer either. In 1998 Coach Ricky Woods’ team beat Eupora by a score of 54-0, one point shy of the 55-0 clobbering administered by Coach Jerry Brantley’s Eagles in 1982.
In the year 2008, X.M. Frascogna Jr. and his two sons published a great book titled “Y’all vs. Us.” This book features 15 of the state’s greatest high school rivalries. One of these rivalries is Ackerman Indians vs. Eupora Eagles. They tell about one particular game, which, in my mind, stands out as one of the greatest football contests that I have ever witnessed. The following is an excerpt from their book about that memorable game.
In every great rivalry, the pendulum swings back and forth between victory and defeat. As fate would have it, the 2001 regular-season Eupora-Ackerman game proved to be special for Eupora fans.
Having lost to Ackerman for five consecutive years leading up to the 2001 game, Eupora was itching to spoil Ackerman’s 62-game winning streak. However, the prognosticators considered Ackerman the overwhelming favorite and didn’t give the Eagles much of a chance of winning.
As expected, late in the game Ackerman was ahead 21-18 with Eupora in possession of the ball at midfield. On its final drive of the game, Eupora’s quarterback (Cliff Davis) launched a Hail Mary to his deep receiver (Eric Marshall), who was covered up by defensive backs. The quarterback had thrown the pass high, requiring the receiver and all three defenders to leap for the ball.
The rest of the play turned into a nightmare for the Indians. The Eagle receiver out-jumped the defensive backs and snared the ball. As he landed on the turf, he spun off the would-be tacklers and raced into the end zone. Final score: Eupora 25, Ackerman 21.
It was a great day in Eupora’s football history, but a dark, dark day for the Indians. To make matters even worse for Ackerman fans, the win in 2001 rejuvenated Eupora, who proceeded to beat Ackerman six times in the next eight years (and nine times in the next 13 games).
However, despite Ackerman’s heartbreaking loss to Eupora in the fourth game of the regular season, the Indians regrouped and went on to post a 14-1 record and win another state championship in 2001.
Recalls (then-Ackerman Coach Ricky) Woods, “We were proud of that state championship, but that was a heartbreaking loss. I wish somebody else other than Eupora would have been the one to beat us.”
The Ackerman High School Indians are now the Choctaw County Chargers. Their colors are no longer blue and gold but are now red, white and blue. Eupora may start playing them again in a couple of years. They will be in a larger classification than us, but I still hope that we play them.
Who knows, the fire of that great old rivalry may be rekindled and that competitive spirit may be just as intense. Remember, competition between these two schools has been a major contributing factor in making them the football powerhouses that they have both become. May it continue!
In my lifetime, I have witnessed dozens of great contests between these two teams. Sometimes, after winning a close battle, I would be so elated it was like a dream. Other times, after losing a close one, I would just sit in the stands with my face in my hands wishing I could vomit or cry or both.
Regardless of the outcome of a game I would quickly come to grips with the reality of — there will always be next year. That reality no longer exists. I will be the first to admit that Ackerman High School was a formidable and very worthy opponent and I personally will miss playing them.
In closing, I have this one request of both Eupora and Ackerman fans. Let your minds wander back to a week of the Eagles and Indians game, regardless of which year. The atmosphere of that week was completely different from that of any other week of the year. An atmosphere of excitement and, to be honest, a little apprehension. The crisp, cool, autumn air; the pep rally; the bonfire; the band; the cheerleaders; the mascot and of course those crazy, rowdy fans. Looking back now, maybe the win or the loss that week wasn’t nearly as crucial or as important as it seemed at the time.
Thank you Eupora Eagles and Ackerman Indians for the tremendous rivalry, for the wonderful traditions, and most of all for the countless memories.