By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Take a soggy playing field, mix in the tension of playing a state-ranked team, then add a melee that resulted in the ejection of three players, and it’s easy to see how visiting Hillcrest-Evergreen was able to pull out a 26-0 win and spoil Escambia County’s home opener last Friday, September 14.
“It’s more about what we did, not what Hillcrest did,” ECHS Head Coach Rico Jackson said. “It was totally uncharacteristic. I was frustrated because we had worked on [eliminating] turnovers and mistakes so much. It’s a game we can’t get back, but we’ve already moved on.”
Indications came early that the Blue Devils, who slipped to 2-1 in regular season play and 1-1 in region competition, might not extend their season-opening win streak against the third-ranked (state Class 4A) Jaguars, despite their first 2018 regular season appearance at Herbert Barnes Stadium.
Hillcrest held ECHS to just 3 net yards on the game’s first 3 plays, and the Devils lined up to punt from their own 38-yard line. The snap sailed over the punter’s head, resulting in a 30-yard loss, and one play later the Jaguars had all the points they would need.
On the ensuing series, the Escambia County squad got another indication that there was a bad moon hanging over their home stadium. Faced with a third-and-17 from his own 1-yard line, Devils quarterback Jordaun Patterson scrambled for an apparent 8-yard gain. But a holding penalty in the end zone wiped out the yardage and gave Hillcrest a safety and a 10-0 lead.
Things got worse on the next Jaguars offensive series. After a penalty and a sack gave Hillcrest a third-and-25 situation, a sweep that carried along the visitors sideline turned into the straw that finished breaking ECHS’s back.
A hard hit in front of the visitors’ bench led to a brief but intense brawl that resulted in the ejection of three key Devils defenders. When order was finally restored, the three ECHS players and two Hillcrest players were sent to the locker rooms for the remainder of the game. (See related story, this page.)
Hillcrest scored on a pass play in the early stages of the second period, then another high snap on a punt attempt sailed 22 yards backward, into the end zone, resulting in another safety. The Jaguars added their final touchdown 3 plays after a punt return gave them a first down on the ECHS 6-yard line.
Jackson bemoaned his team’s lack of offensive production.
“We had some opportunities on offense,” he said. “We had one pass that was overthrown, one pass that was under-thrown, and one where Jordaun slipped when he tried to pass. Against a good team, you have got to convert your opportunities.”
As far as the team’s defense, there were few problems. According to unofficial stats, the Blue Devils defenders held the high-octane Hillcrest offense to less than 100 yards on the night.
“We played very well on defense,” said Jackson, who cited the efforts of William Bradley, Deondre Freeman and Jamarius Lewis as the game’s best. “We held them to just under 100 yards offense, and not many teams hold Hillcrest to under 100 yards. I was proud of how our team kept fighting.”
Escambia County will try to right its ship this Friday, when Class 4A, Region 1 foe W.S. Neal comes to town. The cross-county Eagles, who have had some key players injured, are 0-4, with losses to Thomasville, Satsuma, Hillcrest-Evergreen and Clarke County.
“We feel good about this one, but we’re not going to take Neal for granted,” Jackson said. “This is a huge game for us. It’s a region game; it’s an in-county game, and it’s a rivalry game. We’ve got to come out and do what we need to do — play mistake-free, hard-nosed football.”