By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo won only three games last year.
Three weeks into the 2010 season, its first under David Bradberry, the Golden Wave has rolled to three consecutive victories, the third coming Friday night against longtime rival Louisville, 17-0, at THS field.
“Beating that bunch was big,” Bradberry said. “That’s a good football team with good athletes. It was a hard-fought game, a dogfight to the end.”
Tupelo (3-0), which has an open date next week before hosting Columbus Sept. 24 in its Division 1-6A opener, received another outstanding performance from sophomore tailback Ashton Shumpert.
The 195-pound back rushed for 184 yards on 25 carries and scored a game-clinching touchdown on a 11-yard run early in the fourth quarter against the visiting Wildcats (1-3). He rushed for 185 yards in last week’s win against Itawamba AHS, his former school.
“What he’s done, hopefully, is what he’ll continue to do,” Bradberry said of Shumpert’s performance. “We had trouble throwing the ball because they put so much pressure on you. We had to find a gap and he was the guy who found the gap.”
Shumpert carried the ball on 10 of Tupelo’s first 11 plays in the second half. His tenth carry was the 11-yard TD run that came on a sweep. It capped a four-play, 80-yard drive that featured his longest run, a 44-yard sprint to the Louisville 22.
“We rely on (Shumpert),” said Golden Wave quarterback Luke Hobson, who was 4 of 12 passing for 34 yards, but had two passes dropped. “We let him move the ball.”
Louisville’s offense piled up 304 yards against Tupelo’s defense, but never threatened to score. The Wildcats, who fumbled three times, never got closer than the Tupelo 34-yard line.
The Wildcats’ elusive quarterback, C.J. Bates, completed 11 of 18 passes for 123 yards and added 54 yards rushing.
“When you shut that bunch out you’ve done a days work,” Bradberry said, praising his defenders. “Our defense kept making plays.”
Tupelo’s offense sputtered in the first half – 129 yards – but managed to put 10 points on the scoreboard. The Wave finished with just 231 yards total offense.
“We played sloppy,” Hobson said, referring to his unit. “We didn’t execute on some big plays. We’ve got to start making the routine plays.”
Hunter Raines kicked a 49-yard field goal with 2 minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the first quarter to give the Golden Wave a 3-0 lead. On the two plays prior to the field goal, Hobson was sacked for a 10-yard loss and had a pass dropped in the end zone.
Tupelo’s first-half touchdown came following a fumble by Shumpert after a 9-yard gain. An alert wide receiver, Matt McIntosh, scooped up the loose ball and rambled 32 yards to the end zone on the second play of the second quarter.
The Golden Wave defense held Louisville and the talented Bates to 92 yards total offense in the first half.
Hobson said the difference between this year’s team and the 2009 club is evident every day.
“This team is a lot more lively. Last year we were dull,” he said. “Our confidence level is up there. We think we can play with anybody.”