BY CHRIS RUSHING
Special to the Journal
FULTON – Expectations can sometimes get out of hand quickly when a team enters a season with a lofty ranking. No. 2 large school Itawamba AHS did nothing to lower those expectations with its 35-14 victory over rival Amory in the season opener Friday night.
From the get-go, the Indians established a strong ground game with the shifty running of Deshawn McGaughy, who finished with 158 yards and a pair of scores to pace Itawamba to a 28-0 halftime lead. As a team, the Indians gathered 351 rushing yards with the help of seven ball carriers.
Indians head coach Jamie Mitchell, who had entered Friday's contest winless in two attempts against Amory, appreciates the fast start for the Indians as he began his third campaign.
“That's our brand of football,” Mitchell said. “I think this is only the third win over Amory in 25 or so years. We've got seniors up front with a big-time tailback and a big-time fullback. We have some guys to hand it to.”
Amory struggled against the strong rush defense of IAHS, which was especially stingy on third downs – the Panthers could not convert a first down past its second play from scrimmage in the first half.
Leading the attack for IAHS were reigning Daily Journal Defensive Player of the Year William Shumpert with three sacks, including back-to-back plays in the third quarter, and Trae Bobo, who notched three tackles-for-loss and a 58-yard fumble return to give the Indians a 21-0 lead with 10 minutes, 58 seconds left in the half.
Meanwhile, Itawamba was able to play keep-away with its strong rushing attack, holding the ball for 18:28 of the game's initial 24 minutes.
“The first half, we got took to the woodshed defensively,” Amory head coach Pat Byrd said. “They knocked us off some of our assignments, but they're a fine football team. You could tell this was a first game and that they had played before.”
To open the second half, Amory finally was able to capitalize on an Itawamba mistake, as the Panthers converted the first of two-straight muffed punts by IAHS returners. Senior signal-caller Stephen Otey put the Panthers on the scoreboard with a perfect 27-yard strike to Evan Lackey, who waltzed into the end zone from the Indians 2.
The thrill was short-lived for Amory. Devoris Taylor raced 61 yards untouched for the Indians five plays later to cap an 84-yard scoring drive and extend the host's lead to 35-7 with 7:44 left in the third period.
Otey, who completed 9-of-20 for 90 yards, wrapped the scoring after twisting into the end zone from 3 yards out with 6:01 to play.
The Indians will hit the road against Senatobia next week, while the Panthers will look to rebound against New Hope.