By Blake Long/Special to the Journal
BRUCE – Zay Armstrong remembers the heartbreak of West Bolivar’s last-second playoff victory against his Bruce team last season.
Using that memory to his advantage, Armstrong practiced a bit harder in preparation for this year’s seemingly annual postseason matchup against the Eagles.
The extra push was just what the senior needed. He accounted for both of the Trojans’ touchdowns and caught a crucial interception to help Bruce defeat defending Class 2A champion West Bolivar 14-12 in the state quarterfinals.
“I practiced with emotion all week,” Armstrong said. “Not saying I don’t practice with emotion every other week, but this game I had a chip on my shoulder and I got to knock it off my back.”
Bruce dominated time of possession and controlled the pace the first three quarters. The Eagles (11-3) held the ball for 8 minutes, 20 seconds in that span and ran only 18 plays for 34 yards.
“I’ve been saying all year this was the best defense in 2A and I think we proved that tonight,” Bruce coach James Ray said. “It was huge that we kept their offense off the field.”
The Trojans (11-3) ran 48 plays and rolled up 276 yards in that time to build a 14-6.
Armstrong put Bruce ahead on its first possession with a 6-yard touchdown run and added an 8-yard score to open the third period.
While West Bolivar’s offense was held in check, the Eagles’ defense kept Bruce scoreless on three trips to the red zone in the second quarter.
A missed 38-yard field goal was sandwiched between a Ladarius Tucker fumble recovery and a 97-yard pick-six by Kylan Johnson.
Mississippi State commit Kailo Moore showed his speed in the fourth quarter, racing down Bruce’s sideline for a 61-yard TD. The ensuing 2-point run was short by inches to keep the Trojans ahead 14-12.
West Bolivar got two more opportunities to take the lead, but a short field goal attempt was no good and Armstrong intercepted a Johnson pass to seal the victory.
Moore finished with 113 yards rushing. The rest of the Eagles accounted for only 36 yards.
Davis Brown had 113 passing yards and Armstrong added 112 yards on the ground for Bruce, which travels to Eupora next week with a bid to Jackson on the line.
“I don’t give a crap if we had to go to Timbuktu, we’re in the North half championship,” Ray said.