Escambia County High School’s football team found out again Friday (September 29) that the combination of mistakes and a state-ranked opponent is a bitter pill to swallow.
ECHS’s slide into its third loss in five games began on the opening kickoff and continued through a first half that saw the Blue Devils lose two fumbles and suffer a pair of pass interceptions. The miscues led to a 34-8 halftime deficit in an eventual 40-8 loss to Hillcrest-Evergreen, which came into the game as the state’s 10th-ranked Class 3A team.
“They were good, but turnovers hurt us,” said first-year ECHS coach Rico Jackson. “When you’re playing a ranked team, you can’t have turnovers. We now have three losses – one to the number-10 team in Class 3A, and two to the number-one team in 4A.”
He noted that his 2-3 squad will probably face at least two more ranked schools before the season is over. He admitted that the experience will likely be a painful one for the Devils, who are in the midst of a seven-year postseason drought.
“They don’t get any easier,” he said, looking at the team’s schedule. “Thomasville (October 13) is ranked high in our classification and Carroll-Ozark (October 20) is ranked in 5A, and we’ve got them back-to-back. I just want the kids to keep playing and know that we’re building, and don’t get discouraged. It’s a process, a hard process, but we have to keep fighting.”
Although the Jaguars returned the opening kickoff 84 yards for a lead they would never relinquish and capitalized on an ECHS fumble to register a 25-yard scoring drive, all in the contest’s first five minutes, Escambia County gave early indications that it might overcome its 12-0 deficiency.
Sophomore running back William Bradley lugged the ball six times on the second ECHS possession, picking up 22 yards in front of an impressive homecoming crowd as the team drove from its own 25 to the Jaguars 5. A 5-yard loss on fourth down ended the march, though, and Hillcrest covered the 90-yard spread in just 3 plays to go in front by a 21-0 margin.
That still didn’t take all the steam out of the Devils, who scored on the second period’s second play when quarterback Jordaun Patterson found Darrien Abrams with a pass that Abrams turned into a 60-yard jaunt into the end zone. Bradley went in for the 2-point conversion, which turned out to be the last points ECHS would put on the board.
The ensuing drive saw the best defensive effort of the night from the home team. The Jaguars moved to within 12 yards of the goal before the Devils defense stiffened and forced a field goal attempt that sailed wide right. But any hopes of a comeback vanished when the next two ECHS series resulted in a fumble and an interception, both of which were turned into Hillcrest 6-pointers.
The Blue Devils gave the crowd one more thrill as the half wound down when Patterson connected with Lue Williams on a 40-yard pass that came to naught 2 plays later when the Jaguars picked off a Patterson pass at the goal line.
Jackson noted that Williams was one of two players he felt stood out above the rest during the setback.
“Lue Williams had a good game,” the coach said. “He’s a good ballplayer and he’s starting to figure it out. I thought Ja’Maya Frye played pretty good defense.”
He refused to openly criticize Friday night’s officiating crew but admitted that he was confounded by two calls – one that gave Hillcrest a TD and one that cost ECHS a TD – enough that he has contacted Alabama High School Athletic Association officials for clarification of the rulings.
“Those were two unfortunate calls,” he said. “Those two plays didn’t decide the game but they did have an effect on the game, and on our kids.”
He added that he and his staff have already put the Hillcrest game behind them and started looking to this week’s game, a road contest at Satsuma, one of the teams battling with ECHS for the region’s fourth playoff spot. The Gators lost their first 4 games before squeezing out a 20-19 win over Citronelle last week.
“The coaches have already gotten back to the drawing board,” he said. “We’re going to keep working; that’s all I know to do. We’ll be playing at Satsuma, and that’s a big region game for us. We’ve got to win that one if we’re going to even think about playoffs.”