By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
For more than a decade, local high school football fans have had little choice about which of the two local schools to support after the final regular season contest has been played.
Escambia County High School supporters could either temporarily switch their allegiance to Escambia Academy’s Cougars, or hang onto hopes that next year would be a better one for the Blue Devils.
Things are different this year. EA and ECHS have both clinched postseason berths, the first time since 2007 that both schools have reached the playoffs in the same season.
The Cougars have been a virtual fixture in the Alabama Independent School Association’s playoffs, having played beyond the regular season each year except two (2008 and 2010) since 2007. EA has captured two state titles during that span, in 2014 and 2017.
On the other hand, the Blue Devils program has produced no playoff team since 2010, when ECHS posted an 8-5 record that included postseason wins over Andalusia and Jackson before a 35-13 setback to Bibb County in the third round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“Having both teams make the playoffs is impressive and speaks well of our local talent level,” said ECHS Principal Dennis Fuqua. “To have success in this region — arguably the toughest 4A region in the state in all sports — is extremely hard to do. Hard work has paid off for these guys this year.”
David Walker, assistant headmaster at EA and a hall of fame coach, agreed that the gridiron success enjoyed by both teams in the same year is a bonus for local fans of both schools.
“I think it’s great,” said Walker, who noted that he was invited to Escambia County’s awards banquet in 1983, when Coach Buck Powell’s ECHS team won the school’s most recent state title. “Everybody in the community has relatives or friends at both schools, and it’s good when you can have that camaraderie in the community.”
Fuqua said the upswing in the school’s football program has created a more pleasant in-school atmosphere. He also wondered what it would be like to have a team made up of the talent from each of the two local high schools.
“The longer a football season goes, the better the semester goes,” said the ECHS principal. “If all these players were playing on the same team it would be even more impressive.”
Atmore Mayor Jim Staff, who played football at ECHS, said the success this year’s teams has enjoyed (the Blue Devils are 5-2, the Cougars are 6-2) has helped create a more relaxed atmosphere within the community.
“For the kids at ECHS, who are now winning, it’s got to help their self-esteem, got to make them feel good,” he said. “With both teams in the playoffs, it’s good for the whole community. It makes everybody in the community feel good. Everybody is positive and upbeat.”
He added that the dual playoff appearances also has a tangible and intangible impact on the community, especially when the games are played in Atmore or Canoe.
“It helps our economy, especially when one of the teams plays at home, because people who come here for the games have to eat and buy gas” Staff said. “Plus they get to see what a beautiful community we have.”
News photos by Ditto Gorme