Escambia County High’s football team did almost everything it should have in its season-ending contest last Friday, November 3, in Mobile. It’s the same “almost” that pretty much provided the mantra for the ECHS season.
The Blue Devils took an early lead against Faith Academy, watched it evaporate, then missed 2 golden opportunities to recapture the advantage when promising drives ended within the shadow of the FA goal posts. The result was a disappointing 21-20 setback that capped off a disappointing 2-8 season.
“We should have won the game; we just didn’t make the plays when we had to,” said first-year ECHS head coach Rico Jackson, whose Aliceville team won the Class 2A state championship last year. “That’s a microcosm of our season right there. We played hard, but we just didn’t get the job done.”
The early lead, which caught the Class 5A Rams off-guard, came on the arm of junior quarterback Jordaun Patterson and the hands of 3 different receivers. Patterson connected with Demetrion Barnes for a 31-yard, first-half scoring strike and followed that up minutes later with a 13-yard TD toss to Lue Williams.
“They were in shock when we went out front like that,” said Jackson, whose team had come up short on each of its 2-point conversion attempts at that point.
Though seemingly insignificant at the time, the failure to convert at least one turned out to be the straw that broke the Devils’ back.
Shortly after the 12-0 lead materialized, the Blue Devils seemed to hit a stone wall. Or the Rams seemed to wake up. Or both.
“We were ahead 12-0 in the second quarter, then (Faith) went no-huddle and scored to make it 12-7,” the ECHS coach recalled. “We drove down and had the ball at the 3, fixing to make it 20-7. We were right there on the goal line, and didn’t score. Then (Faith) went 95 yards to make it 14-12 at the half.”
The Rams opened the second half with another scoring drive that upped their lead to 21-12, but the ECHS defense bowed its back and shut down everything Faith tried after that. Meanwhile, Patterson led the Devils down the field again and found Lashawn Robinson with a 17-yard scoring pass. The 2-point try was successful, making it a 1-point game, but another dose of “almost” reared its head minutes later.
With the game clock rapidly winding down, ECHS drove inside the Faith 10-yard line and seemed destined to pull ahead before the drive fizzled out. Faith took over on downs and allowed the final minute-plus to wind down.
“We stopped them and got the ball back, but we didn’t get in, and they ran the clock out,” Jackson said of his team’s seventh straight loss.
The veteran coach said he saw a lot of improvement in his team since last year’s spring game, in which Flomaton pretty much dominated play. Still, a 2-win season is a bitter pill to swallow, even when a team plays the caliber of opponent ECHS faced this year in rugged Class 4A, Region 1 and outside the region.
“We were better (than when he took over in March), but it was a very disappointing season, for my expectations and my standards,” he said. “But I’m a realist as well. When you play four teams that were in the (state) Top 3, or whatever it was, and your non-region games included three 5A schools, well …”
Jackson added that after allowing the returning players (about 50 of a 60-man roster were underclassmen) a two-week rest, he and his coaches would try to convey their feelings about this season’s won-lost record.
“Since the UMS-Wright game, they’ve played hard but they don’t have a winning mentality yet,” he explained. “We’re going to work their tails off this off-season, let them know that 2-8 is not going to get it done. I don’t accept it; the assistants don’t accept it, and it all rolls downhill from us.”