Prepares for Thursday showdown with Williamson
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Escambia County High’s Blue Devils hung tough with perennial region power UMS-Wright for the first half of their Friday, October 19, game. The second half was a different story.
ECHS faced a deficit of only 14-0 coming out of the halftime locker, but sophomore Edwin White — who had earlier hauled in a 55-yard touchdown pass for UMS — changed the tone of the game by returning the second-half kickoff 80 yards for a score.
The top-ranked (state, Class 4A) Bulldogs added two more touchdowns to cement a 35-0 win and clinch the Region 1 regular season title.
“UMS has a good team; they’re No. 1 for a reason,” said ECHS coach Rico Jackson after the contest, which left his team with a 4-2 region mark. “I thought we played well in the first half, but that kickoff return really deflated us. It was all downhill from there.”
Although the Blue Devils never scored, their first few offensive series indicated that they might before the night was over. Running backs Malik Brown, who picked up 85 yards rushing in the first half, and Dmitri Wiggins, who had 47, picked up 36 yards between them as ECHS drove deep into Bulldogs territory. Jordaun Patterson also passed to Demetrion Barnes for a 14-yard gain on the drive.
“Dmitri and Malik both ran the ball real well,” Jackson said. “I had challenged them, told them it was time for them to step up, and they did.”
A fourth-down-and-9 pass from the ECHS quarterback to his younger brother, Allen, was good for 11 yards and an apparent first down at the UMS-Wright 21-yard line. But a holding call wiped out the gain, and Escambia wound up having to punt.
The Bulldogs took over at their own 22 and quickly covered the remaining 78 yards. Junior running back Symon Smith, last year’s Class 4A Back of the Year, got all the points the Bulldogs would need when he swept 14 yards for the score. Smith, who ran for 181 yards on 16 carries, also later scored from 5 yards out.
The second Escambia series was much of the same, with Brown carrying most of the load and the Devils driving from their own 13 to the UMS 42 before they turned the ball over on downs. The home team moved the ball well on its fourth possession, too, driving into UMS territory before receiver Lue Williams slipped down on the wet turf, and a Jordaun Patterson pass was picked off.
The UMS defensive unit clamped down then and completed its fifth shutout of the season. ECHS wound up with 140 offensive yards, including negative yardage after halftime. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs rolled up 283 yards.
Jackson said the team has already put the loss behind it and is preparing for Thursday’s showdown with Williamson at Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium, a game that will decide whether ECHS, which has clinched a playoff spot, earns the region’s third seed outright, or whether a series of tiebreakers will be required to determine the final two playoff positions.
Currently, ECHS is tied with Hillcrest-Evergreen for second place in 4A, Region 1. Since Hillcrest beat the Blue Devils, the Jaguars have clinched the second playoff seed, unless they are upset by winless Monroe County this week. Williamson is 3-3 in region play, as are Andalusia and Clarke County, which play each other this week. UMS-Wright plays Neal (1-5) in the only region encounter that does not have playoff implications.
“I expect our kids to bounce back and have a good game on Thursday,” Jackson said. “We want to win this game and not put ourselves in a situation where we have to rely on others or tiebreakers to see where we stand in the playoffs. We’ve had a good year up to now, and I would love for us to finish 7-3. (The Blue Devils also have a non-region game left with Class 1A Francis Marion High.) We have a chance to do that.”
He noted that the ECHS squad will have to play up to its capabilities to knock off the playoff-hungry Lions.
“Williamson is still in the playoff picture,” he said. “They are scrappy and they play hard. We’ll have to match their intensity in order to win and solidify our playoff standing. We’ll need our running backs to run hard and protect the ball, and we’ll need good defense. We need to win so we’ll control our own fate.”