October 9, 2010 11:39:00 PM
ABERDEEN -- More times than not, bad practices tend to have disastrous results come game time.
But that wasn''t the case here Friday when another Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 3A, Region 2 pretender bit the dust, as Aberdeen posted a come-from-behind 35-14 win against Water Valley.
"We survived, and that''s just about it," said Aberdeen High coach Chris Duncan, whose team improved to 7-1 and 2-0 in the region. "Practice bad, play bad. The kids hear that from us all the time, and it nearly bit us in the rear end this time. I''m not making any excuses for our poor performance, but we had too many distractions this week -- tests, senior stuff, and other things seemed to keep us focused on everything except Water Valley."
The Bulldogs'' "lethargic performance" prompted a serious, one-way discussion at halftime and Duncan''s rousing "pep talk" brought almost immediate results
Down 7-0 midway through the second period and leading only 14-7 at halftime, the Bulldogs scored twice and added a two-point conversion in a 60-second span in the third quarter.
"Coach (Duncan) sort of went ballistic at halftime," said one player who wished to remain anonymous. "He was pretty vocal, and I think he got his point across."
Playing with renewed vigor, Aberdeen High''s defenders set the tone on Water Valley''s first possession in the third period when they forced a three-and-out punt by the Blue Devils'' John Michael Grimmett that was downed on the Bulldog 27.
Five plays later, Aberdeen quarterback Desmond Jones found Michael Hodges for a 58-yard touchdown pass to make it 20-7.
"We had been throwing to our fullback (Justin Lucas) in the flat and all the defenders jumped him, so Des made a great read on the bootleg pass and hit our run-off receiver (Hodges)," Aberdeen High offensive coordinator Justin Moss said. "That''s why Hodges was 15 yards behind their nearest defensive back."
One minute later, it was a 28-7 game after a 25-yard Channing Ward pick-six and a Jones to Jalen Devauld two-point conversion pass.
"I thought we played two-and-a-half to three quarters of good football, but when you flinch against Aberdeen, they''re going to hurt you," said Water Valley head coach Brad Embry, whose team slipped to 6-2 and 1-1. "We flinched a couple of times in the second quarter and then a couple of more times over about a five-minute span in the third, and it kind of snowballed on us and we couldn''t recover."
Down by 21, Water Valley faced a fourth-and 10 at midfield on its next possession, so Embry elected to try a fake punt. But Grimmett''s pass fell incomplete and Aberdeen took over at the 50 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter.
Eight plays later, senior Patrick Lockett latched on to a Jones 19-yard touchdown pass and Antonio Crayton added the kick for a 35-7 lead with 21 seconds left in the third quarter.
Earlier in the drive, Jones found Lockett for a 16-yard gainer, and then hit Aaron McMillian for 16 more yards thanks to a tremendous block by Michael Hodges, which took out two defenders. Jones was 10 of 13 for 158 yards.
"Patrick''s touchdown pass was probably the biggest catch of his career," Moss said. "He''s a senior with a straight-A average, and it couldn''t have happened to a better kid."
Penalties, fumbles, and sloppy all-round play contributed to a scoreless first quarter. But the Blue Devils finally dented the scoreboard at the 9-minute, 37-second mark of the second period when quarterback E.J. Bounds, with considerable help from his Power-I running backs, nudged his way into the end zone from 1 yard out to cap a nine-play, 31-yard drive. Alex Robles added the point after for a 7-0 lead.
Aberdeen failed to pick up a first down on its next possession, but a booming 64-yard punt by Crayton backed the Blue Devils up to their 8-yard line. Once again, the Bulldogs held Water Valley without a first down. On fourth down, Brandon Smith blocked Grimmett''s punt and recovered it in the end zone for the Bulldogs'' first score.
Crayton''s point after sailed wide right, however, to leave his team on the short end of a 7-6 count with 6:38 left in the second quarter.
Yet another three-and-out set up Aberdeen''s go-ahead touchdown - a 5-yard plunge by Victor Hodges, followed by a Jones to Ward two-point conversion pass and a 14-7 lead. The highlight of the nine-play, 67-yard march was a Jones to Lucas pass for 24 yards that carried to the 19, followed by a half-the-distance penalty for roughing the passer.
After a 25-30 minute delay late in the fourth quarter due to an injury to Water Valley''s Kyle Tollison, Water Valley scored its second touchdown on a 4-yard keeper by Bounds and a Robles'' kick to account for the final score.
Bounds'' touchdown capped a six-play, 23-yard drive that was set up when Aberdeen failed to convert a fourth-down fake punt at its 23.
"Defensively, we came out flat, and that was because we didn''t practice like we should have all week," Aberdeen High defensive coordinator Patrick Schoolar said. "But after their first two drives, I thought we turned it on and played lights out the rest of the way."
Aberdeen held Water Valley to 46 total yards in the first half and to 103 yards for the game -- 82 rushing and 21 passing on just four completions.
Schoolar said it was a total team effort, but he highlighted Johnny McMillian, Channing Ward, and Brandon Smith for having exceptional nights.
"We had three picks, one for a touchdown, and a blocked punt for another score," Schoolar said. "Those were worth 14 points."
Duncan, Moss, and Schoolar agreed Water Valley proved to be a wake-up call for Aberdeen.
"We needed something like this," said Moss, whose offense had 207 total yards, 158 passing, and just 49 yards rushing on 41 carries. "We got off our routine and weren''t focused, but Water Valley is a good team, and we may very well see them again later if we make it to the playoffs."
Said Duncan, "Water Valley came out and played their socks off until we decided enough was enough. They gave us their best shot and proved to our team that if you don''t prepare yourselves to play well, you can get beat."