Eagles put end to ECHS playoff hopes

Coach Rico Jackson discusses a play with senior Ja’Maya Frye during first-half action.

There were playoff implications for both teams when the ball was teed up for the kickoff to last Friday’s (October 27) Escambia County High School and W.S. Neal football game. It didn’t take long to figure out which team’s postseason hopes would be realized.

Despite losing 2 fumbles, the visiting Eagles scored on their second possession, added 2 more first-half touchdowns, then tacked on a third-period score to build a 27-0 lead. Those scores, along with an almost complete shutdown of the ECHS offense, led to a 27-8 victory that gave Neal the fourth playoff spot from Class 4A, Region 1.

The Blue Devils, who had been plagued with turnovers in recent weeks, actually registered a pair of takeaways, as Jeffery Wilson and Khalil Askew each came up with a fumble recovery that stopped Eagles drives inside ECHS territory.

The Devils actually recovered 3 Neal fumbles, but the first was wiped out by what the lead official called “an inadvertent whistle” on a play that would have given ECHS the ball in Eagles territory early in the second period.

That ruling led to a lengthy discussion between officials and the coaches from each team, the first of several occasions during which referees spent several minutes discussing a call among themselves or explaining their call to both sidelines. The official delays stretched the game to nearly 2-1/2 hours.

Escambia head coach Rico Jackson said he was disappointed in the officiating but noted that his team didn’t otherwise play well enough to win.

“That (the officiating) played some part in it, but we didn’t do our part,” he said.

Jackson said he felt his defensive unit gave another good showing, with Neal players coming up big when they needed to. The third WSN touchdown was a good example of that, as Neal’s Jacoby Hawthorne snagged a 28-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Taylor, despite excellent coverage by ECHS’s Jordaun Patterson.

“I thought our defense played well,” he said. “Even when that guy made that miraculous catch, we were in position. Sometimes we don’t make the plays that we should.”

The Devils, who fell to 2-7 on the year and wound up with a 1-5 region mark, avoided a shutout when Patterson, the team’s quarterback, swept left on a keeper, found a seam, then headed back through the middle of the Eagles defense for a score with 28 seconds to play. Ja’Maya Frye went in for the 2-point conversion to provide the final margin.

“That was a good run by Jordaun at the end of the game,” said Jackson. “That showed that our guys aren’t quitting, and I’m proud of that.”
Patterson’s scoring jaunt marked just the second ECHS offensive play of more than 5 yards. The other came on the second Devils play of the contest, when Patterson found Lue Williams alone down the left sideline for a 32-yard pass completion.

With all playoff hopes dashed, ECHS will be playing for pride and momentum when the Blue Devils travel to Mobile on Friday to play 5A Faith Academy, which is also 2-7.

“We really want to win this one and finish strong to start our off-season,” Jackson said. “I know next year we’ll be better, but next year is a long way away.”
Jackson, who led Aliceville to the Class 2A state title a year ago, agreed that his first season at the ECHS helm has been a frustrating one – for him, his staff and his players.

“It’s amazing what a difference a year makes,” he remarked. “Last year, my team was in Auburn playing for a state championship; this year, my team is 2-7. It’s frustrating. We’re going to be all right, but we’ve got a ways to go. Our players have got to get bigger, faster and stronger, but it’s not all on the kids. We’ve got to coach better, too.”