HAMILTON — If Hamilton High School football coach Ray Weeks and his opportunistic band of Lions wanted to make a statement here Friday against Eupora, they accomplished their goal and then some.
Taking advantage of seven turnovers — five interceptions (three by senior Zarrat Sims) and a pair of fumble recoveries — the Lions ended their five-game losing streak against Eupora dating back to the 1994 season en route to a convincing 32-6 win.
“Without a doubt, this was my biggest win since I’ve been here at Hamilton,” said Weeks, who is in his eighth year as football coach at the school. “And what makes it even better is that it came against Junior Graham, one of the best and most respected coaches around.”
Turnovers played a huge role in the win, but equally as devastating for Eupora was the loss of 5-foot-10, 220-pound running back Vandy Smith with 7 minutes, 37 seconds left in the first quarter. Eupora came into the contest at 4-2 and was averaging almost 172 rushing yards a game, 117 of those credited to Smith.
“When he (Smith) had to come out there on our first drive, we pretty much stuck with our ground game the rest of the half, but we knew we were going to have to throw the ball when we were down 13-7 at the half,” said Graham, whose record dropped to 44-13 in his five-year stint at Eupora. “We not only lost our best running back on offense, but he was also our second leading tackler from his linebacker spot on defense.”
Smith left the game after his 4-yard gainer carried to the Hamilton 18 on the Eagles’ first series. Lazerick Davis then ripped off a 14-yard run up the middle to give the Eagles a first-and-goal at the 4, but back-to-back penalties for holding and an illegal shift moved the ball back to the Lions’ 18.
Freshman quarterback Trey Pittman then found Devin Simmons open at the 8 and the senior tight end scored to cap the 12-play, 69-yard march.
Smith’s replacement, sophomore Javoris Draine, was stopped short on the two-point conversion attempt, however, leaving the Eagles with a six-point lead with 6:25 left in the first period.
The Eagles, who had attempted just 40 passes in their first six games (with 19 completions), went to the air just two more times the remainder of the half – both of which were picked off by two-way starter Zarrat Sims.
After Sander Grondman’s 33-yard field goal cut Eupora’s lead to 6-3 with 3:54 left in the first quarter, Sims’ first interception at midfield set up the Lions’ first touchdown — a 4-yard keeper by Sims, who also doubles as the Hamilton quarterback.
The key play in the four-play drive was a 38-yard Sims completion to junior Deion Howard on a third-and-8 from the Eupora 42. Grondman’s PAT kick increased Hamilton’s lead to 10-6 with 52 seconds left in the first quarter.
Seven plays later, Sims grabbed his second wayward aerial at the Hamilton 2 to prevent a possible touchdown. But Kyle Dahlem’s fumble recovery at the Eagles’ 30 one series later led to a 19-yard Grondman field goal and a 13-6 halftime lead for the Lions.
A Jeremy Lindsey fumble recovery near midfield ended Eupora’s first drive of the second half and Howard made the Eagles pay with what was undoubtedly the turning point. He ripped off a 15-yard gainer inside the Eagles’ 30, but when he was tackled he rolled on top of a Eupora defender and had the presence of mind to get back to his feet and complete the 46-yard touchdown run barely a minute into the third period. Grondman’s kick upped the count to 20-6.
Two minutes later, Sims registered his third pick when he stepped in front of a receiver and raced 55 yards untouched to the end zone for a 26-6 lead
Quinshay Heard added his first interception, and then Howard made his first interception late in the third quarter.
The Lions’ final touchdown came with 8:56 left in the fourth quarter when Heard bulled his way into the end zone from three yards out.
Both Weeks and Graham agreed the Lions’ two quick scores to open the second half sealed Eupora’s fate.
“Those two scored right after half gave us the momentum,” Weeks said.
Said Graham, “They were crucial. We lost to a good team and we’re just going to go to work and find a way to win.”
The Lions improved to 7-1 and 2-0 in the division.
“We’re in a great spot and just where we want to be,” Weeks said.
Eupora falls to 4-3 and 1-1.
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