As Rico Jackson and his staff attempt to rebuild a tattered Escambia County High School football program, they know that the team will take some lumps and that benchmarks will be hard to establish.
The Blue Devils were able to erase one benchmark in futility with their 26-8 win over Monroe County last Friday (September 15). The victory gave the team a 2-1 mark, reportedly the first time since 2010 that an ECHS squad has won two of its first three contests.
Jackson said the key to the crucial early season win, which also evened ECHS’s region record at 1-1, came in the increased level of competition his players displayed, although he felt that a more concentrated effort might have increased the winning margin.
“They competed,” the Blue Devils coach said of his troops. “I was happy about that. We’ve still got a long way to go, a lot of things we need to address, but they played hard and they were rewarded with a big region win.”
The win put Escambia County in a three-way tie with UMS-Wright and W.S. Neal for fourth place in region play. While the top four teams from Region 1 will compete in the postseason, Jackson would not dwell on that fact, especially so early in the season, although he didn’t discount a playoff appearance.
“We play to win,” he said. “If you win, you go to the playoffs. It’s a step-by-step process, so we’ll just take them one game at a time.”
ECHS gained more than 400 offensive yards, most of them on the ground, in their road win over the Tigers.
“We made the plays at the right time, but there were times when I thought we should have gotten into the end zone and we didn’t,” he explained. “The offensive line played OK; they didn’t play spectacular, but they didn’t play that bad, just kind of middle of the road.”
William Bradley rushed for 210 yards to lead the ground game. Bradley scored a touchdown, as did Xavier Lymon, Ja’Maya Frye and Malik Brown.
Still, the coach wasn’t completely satisfied.
“The backs played well,” said the first-year ECHS coach. “William had a good game running the ball, but he didn’t really have a complete game of running, blocking, the whole deal. That’s something we’ll work on.”
Jackson also had praise for the play of quarterback Jordaun Patterson, who passed for 80 yards, and receiver Lu Williams, who had two catches that accounted for most of that yardage.”
“I thought Jordaun had a good game and threw the ball well,” he said. “And Lu had two big catches, each for about 30 yards.”
Jackson was also pleased with a defensive effort that harassed Monroe County quarterbacks and running backs all night.
“Deondre Freeman had 2-1/2 sacks, and Darrien Abrams had three sacks,” he reported. “Ja’Bryce Hooks played well, and Brandon Cummings had a really good game. Overall, I thought we played really well on defense. Since the only score came against our offense, our defense actually got a shutout.”
The Tigers did not crack the end zone against the Devils defense, scoring their only touchdown when a Blue Devils fumble was picked up and returned to pay dirt.
The 2-point conversion gave the home team its only lead and its last points of the night.
Jackson was especially pleased that the team’s reaction to quickly seeing a 6-0 lead evaporate was just as he hoped it would be.
“We scored in the second quarter, then we fumbled and they ran it for a TD,” he said. “When they went up 8-6 we didn’t bow our heads. We came back and scored the rest of the points. We took control in the third quarter when we ran the ball well and controlled the clock. That shows that our kids are not going to quit.”
The relatively young Blue Devils will get another huge test this week when for the second time in four weeks they will face the state’s top-ranked Class 4A team. Andalusia, which beat number-one UMS-Wright in overtime last week to move into the top spot, will come to Atmore looking for its fourth win.
“If we come to play, I think we can hang with anybody, but we can’t be intimidated by them,” said Jackson. “We really don’t have anything to lose, so we need to just go out and play and have fun, but do our jobs and do them the best we can.”