By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
To say that Rico Jackson was a little nervous prior to his team’s game at Andalusia last Friday, October 12, would be an understatement.
But it wasn’t the anticipation of playing a tough Bulldogs squad that provoked the Escambia High School football coach’s anxiety; it was whether or not his Blue Devils would make it onto the field.
“The truck carrying all our equipment — I mean all our equipment — had a flat tire on the way to Andalusia, and we didn’t get onto the field until right at kickoff,” Jackson said after the 24-3 win. “The wife of one of our coaches stopped and loaded as much as she could in her vehicle, but I didn’t know until just before game time if we were going to make it or not. I was nervous, but it didn’t seem to bother the team.”
With the win ECHS is not only guaranteed its first non-losing record in seven years, but also locked up its first postseason appearance in eight years.
“It was awesome; I’m really excited for these boys,” Jackson said of the win, which set up this week’s matchup with UMS-Wright for the region’s top playoff seed. “Starting with the equipment, our kids fought through adversity. They have done a great job. The coaches have done a great job, too. It’s been a total team effort.”
It was an aggressive and determined Escambia defense that led the way past Andalusia, but an opportunist offense provided a perfect complement. ECHS rolled up 342 yards; Andalusia managed only “about 170” and suffered five turnovers.
“Our defense played really well, and we made some big plays on offense when it was time to make big plays,” the Blue Devils coach said.
Among the big offensive plays were a couple of key fourth-down pass receptions by Lue Williams, who also had an 8-yard TD catch for the game’s first points. Malik Brown also came through when the situation called for it. Brown rushed for 33 yards, scored a pair of 2-point conversions and passed for another 2-pointer.
“J.P. [quarterback Jordaun Patterson] had to come out of the game because his helmet came off when he went in on the sneak,” Jackson said. “We went into the Wildcat formation, with the ball snapped to Malik. We had three straight false starts, then Malik threw an 18-yard pass to Lue for the points.”
Patterson led the team with 57 yards rushing including a 1-yard TD.
Patterson hooked up with four different receivers in completing 11 of 21 tosses for 205 yards. Williams had three catches for 35 yards; Kuron Frye pulled in four for 52 yards; Katyree Russell (52 yards) and Jabryce Hooks (46) caught two each.
“Lue had some big fourth-down catches,” noted the ECHS coach. “Jabryce had a couple of big catches, and Kuron and Katyree both had some good catches.”
The offensive success was due in large part to the play of the line, which continues to improve each week.
“Our offensive line is still a work in progress, but they’re getting better every week,” Jackson said. “This was our best effort from our front seven all year. Andalusia was big up front, and their linebackers were really good. We made some mistakes, and we’ve got to continue to make progress, but overall I was proud of them.”
Defensively, the Devils dominated. ECHS picked off four Bulldogs passes, including one that Patterson returned 34 yards for a fourth-period score, and recovered a fumble. Andalusia’s only points came on a 44-yard field goal late in the first period.
William Bradley led the way with 9 tackles (6 solo), while Charles Lambert had 8 tackles and a pass interception. The quarterback’s brother, Allen Patterson, intercepted a pass and had 4 tackles; Deondre Freeman had 5 tackles, each for negative yardage, including a sack; Khalil Askew added 5 tackles; Ladarious Wilson picked off a pass, and Virgil Peoples forced and recovered a fumble.
ECHS will need a similar effort this week, as the Blue Devils host UMS-Wright, the state’s top-ranked Class 4A team. The Bulldogs are 5-0 in Region 1 play, while ECHS is 4-1. The winner will be in the driver’s seat for the region’s top playoff spot.
“The Andalusia win was nice, but our kids have to understand that the season is not over,” Jackson said. “We’ve got UMS this Friday for the de facto region championship. Our kids are playing with serious confidence, trying to get the job done. UMS-Wright has a good football team, but we do, too. We’re going to practice hard this week to get ready for Friday.”