By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
For the past few years, most of the excitement of an Escambia County High School homecoming football game has been during the halftime activities. This year, there could be just as much excitement on the field.
ECHS struggled a little in the first half, then used a combination of defense and special teams to augment a lethargic offense and score 30 second-half points and post a 46-14 win over W.S. Neal last Friday (September 24). The win gave ECHS a 3-1 overall mark (2-1 in Class 4A, Region 1), their best four-game record since 2010.
“I thought we really played well on defense and special teams, but our offense could have played a little better,” said Rico Jackson, the second-year Blue Devils coach. “I didn’t think we had our best game offensively, but we made up for it on defense and special teams.”
The Blue Devils took control of the game in the first half, but couldn’t put the determined Eagles away. The game’s opening drive saw the ECHS squad move steadily downfield, but a fumble gave W.S. Neal the ball at their own 1-yard line.
But, while the Devils didn’t get a touchdown, they did come away with points when Deondre Freeman stormed through the line and tackled a Neal runner for a safety.
Jackson said he would have preferred that his team, which has now scored more points than last year’s team did all season, had closed the deal with a 6-pointer.
“We’ve got to learn a sense of urgency at the goal line,” he said. “That fumble was one of just two turnovers, and we have got to continue to eliminate them. Also, we didn’t have but four penalties called against us all night. I was proud of that.”
A 16-yard TD toss from Jordaun Patterson, who was 10-of-16 with no interceptions and 151 yards passing, to Lue Williams made it 8-0, and Tyson Moore’s 2-point PAT run made it 10-0 before the Eagles used a short drive to make it 10-6.
That was as close as the cross-county rivals would get. Patterson, who also had 46 rushing yards, scored on a sneak to make it 16-6 at the half. It was all ECHS after that.
“Neal has a good football team, but they have a lot of young kids,” Jackson said. “We were able to wear them down a bit in the first half.”
Rounding out the ECHS offensive effort were Craig Brown, who ran for 32 yards on 6 carries and scored a TD and 2 2-point conversions, Lue Williams hauled in 5 passes for 60 yards, and Katyree Russell had 5 catches for 92 yards. The yardage came despite some growing pains experienced by the team’s offensive line.
“Katyree had a really good game,” Jackson said. “Craig Brown ran the ball very hard, too, and I thought Jordaun played solid at times. Our offensive line is a work in progress and is going to get better.”
Defensively, there were standouts a’plenty.
“William Bradley (7 tackles, a 35-yard interception return for a TD, a forced fumble and 2 pass deflections) played a good game,” said the ECHS coach. “Charles Lambert (8 tackles) played well; Ladainan Dailey (8 tackles) played well, Jamarius Lewis played well, and Allen Patterson played well.”
Dmitri Wiggins also had a good game, recording 4 tackles and returning a Neal fumble 30 yards for a touchdown, while Kuron Frye’s 85-yard kickoff return for a TD highlighted the play of the special teams.
“We’re giving ourselves a chance to win ballgames,” Jackson said. “We’re going to keep playing as hard as we can and see what happens. We’re going to take it one game at a time and try to get better.”
The Blue Devils will have to maintain their lofty level of play this week, when another cross-county rival — Flomaton — will try and take some of the polish off the homecoming activities. The Hurricanes, who are not in ECHS’s region, are 4-0, with wins over Jay, Northview, Excel and St. Michaels Catholic. They have outscored their opponents by a 148-38 margin.
“Flomaton has some good athletes and they are well-coached,” Jackson said. “It’s homecoming for us, and we want to win our homecoming game, but we have got to play up to our ability. Winning is always great; it means a lot to the kids. We’re going to try and keep this thing rolling.”