WALNUT – After a one-year absence, the ninth Joe Bowl is set to kick off tonight at 7:30 at Walnut High’s Wildcat Stadium.
The annual clash between North Tippah schools Falkner and Walnut – named in honor of the late Joe Horton who coached at both schools and won a state title at Falkner – was canceled last season after an outbreak of swine flu struck the Falkner locker room. This season, both teams are healthy and enter the game 1-0 after convincing wins in Week 1.
“It’s a long-time rivalry and coming off a one-year break, we are expecting a packed house,” said Walnut coach Timmy Moore, a graduate of Walnut who is 7-7 against the Eagles as a coach. “It’s such an emotional game, so you never can tell how the game is going to go. Sometimes unexpected things happen.”
One thing is for sure: The game is expected to be exciting, hard-hitting, and to most people asked, close. The Eagles have been outscored 162-20 in four consecutive series losses, but Falkner coach Nickey Nance hopes for a different outcome this year.
“It will be a hard-fought game with a lot at stake,” said Nance, a graduate of Falkner who seeks his first win of the series. “Being within five miles of each other, some of these kids go to church together and they see each other all the time. It’s definitely a want-to-win game.”
For the Eagles to win, their first priority is stopping – or slowing down – Wildcat home-run hitter Shaquille Perry. Perry scored four first-quarter touchdowns and totaled 182 yards in the season-opener at Wheeler. Nance knows limiting his yards on the ground will be the key to victory.
“I don’t know if you ever completely stop Shaquille Perry. He’s just a tremendous athlete, “ said Nance. “We’ve got to try not to make any mistakes defensively and just be where he’s going.”
Tasked with stopping Perry will be the Eagles’ new 3-5 defense, which Nance quickly added wasn’t anything like what the Wildcats saw against Wheeler.
“We are going to play hard-nosed defense like we did last week,” added Nance. “Alcorn Central didn’t have a running back like Perry, but at the same time, Perry hasn’t faced a defense like he will this week.”
For the Wildcats, the key will be containing the Eagles’ Will Robertson. Robertson had three scores in week one – two rushing and one receiving – and compiled 212 all-purpose yards. Moore says this is one of the better teams in Falkner history.
“This is the best Falkner team I’ve seen on film in several years,” said Moore. “They are very well coached and they are playing hard on defense.
“At Alcorn Central, they played well defensively and they ran the ball well. Those are keys to winning big games. We have a tough task ahead of us.”
The two schools have played against each other virtually every year since 1963, and Falkner holds a slight edge in the series 25-22-1. The series was named the Joe Bowl in 2001, a year after Joe Horton, then head coach at Walnut, died of a heart attack suffered during halftime of the Falkner/Walnut game in 2000.
Joe Bowl recent history
2009 – Did not play
2008 – Walnut 21, Falkner 6
2007 – Walnut 48, Falkner 0
2006 – Walnut 38, Falkner 6
2005 – Walnut 55, Falkner 8
Kedrick Storey/Southern Sentinel