By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
WALNUT – It’s called the Joe Bowl, but Thursday night’s annual Tippah County war between rivals Walnut and Falkner could have been tagged the “Shaq” Bowl.
Walnut senior running back Shaquille Perry rushed for 149 yards and scored four touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to a 42-7 victory and their sixth consecutive win in the series before a packed house.
“We prepared the best we could for him,” Falkner coach Nickey Nance said. “He’s a heckuva running back. I’ve told everybody he’s a Division I prospect. He proved that tonight. We were hitting him.”
The game is named in honor of the late Joe Horton, who coached at both schools before he died of a heart attack in 2000 while coaching Walnut in a game against Falkner.
Perry scored three touchdowns in the first half then added his fourth with a 69-yard dash from the Wildcat formation on a second-and-12 play to give Walnut (2-0) a 35-7 lead in the opening moments of the final quarter.
“Shaq has a knack for showing up for a big game,” Walnut coach Timmy Moore said. “He can make it happen from anywhere on the field.”
Walnut took a 21-7 lead in the first half on the strength of three touchdown runs by Perry covering 1, 14 and 53 yards.
His 14-yard scamper out of the Wildcat formation with 6:04 remaining in the first quarter answered Falkner’s opening-drive TD.
The Eagles drew first blood, marching 65 yards on six quick plays to score on Will Robertson’s 28-yard sprint on an inside reverse. Robertson finished with 20 rushes for 137 yards.
“He’s a good player,” Moore said of Falkner’s hard-nosed back. “We were able to slow him down a little in the second half.”
Perry’s 53-yard sprint on an off-tackle play gave the Wildcats a 14-7 lead with 1:15 remaining in the first quarter.
Falkner (1-1) had an opportunity to tie the score midway in the second quarter, but gave up the ball on downs after reaching the Walnut 15-yard line.
“That was huge,” Nance said. “It was like a needle stuck in a balloon. It’s hard with a lack of depth to overcome something like that.”
Perry’s 1-yard run came on a third-and-goal play with the second-quarter clock running down. He helped set up the TD with a 30-yard screen pass from Cody Wells, who completed 9 of 13 for 222 yards.
The Wildcats reached the 1-yard line on Wells’ 39-yard pass to Wyatt Huffman.
Wells also kicked the Wildcats’ six extra points.
Wells gave Walnut a 28-7 on the first series of the third quarter on a 1-yard sneak. His 57-yard pass to Dominic Steele on third-and-13 kept the drive alive.
“That was a momentum switch,” Moore said.
Denarial Jones scored Walnut’s final TD on a 35-yard run late in the fourth quarter.