By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Escambia County’s football team didn’t turn in its best overall performance of the year in their win last Thursday (Nov. 1) over playoff-bound Francis Marion High, but the Blue Devils didn’t have to.
While the ECHS offense struggled throughout the season-ending contest, the scrappy Devils defense took charge, bending several times but never breaking in a 14-0 decision over a Rams team that struggled early but has gotten better as the season progressed.
Due to AHSAA tiebreakers, Escambia High missed by an eyelash its first playoff appearance since 2010, and the 6-4 mark represents the best season for an ECHS team since the 2011 squad went 5-5.
Second-year ECHS head coach Rico Jackson, whose team rebounded from a 2-8 season last year, said the fact the game was the last for 22 ECHS seniors was probably one of the reasons the team played much of the contest without the spark it had shown through most of the season.
“Francis Marion was better than they were early in the year, and they had some big boys,” said Jackson of the Class 1A school. “I’m just happy to get a ‘w.’ It’s a tough game to play when you know it could be the last one you’ll ever play. The kids kind of lost their confidence, but they still did pretty well. At the end of the day, I’m proud of these kids for sticking with it. It’s been a great season, a phenomenal season.”
The two teams slugged it out on the soggy turf of Herbert Barnes Stadium throughout Thursday’s contest, with penalties slowing the pace to a crawl, especially in the first half.
The first real break came with early in the first period, when Dmitri Wiggins recovered a fumble at the Francis Marion 38-yard line. The Blue Devils quickly capitalized on the mistake, covering the distance in just four plays and 2:00 of clock.
Quarterback Jordaun Patterson, who wound up completing 11 of 23 passes for 113 yards, hit Katyree Russell for a 7-yard gain, then Malik Brown carried twice for 17 yards. The score came when Patterson found Lu Williams, who broke a tackle and outran three defenders into the end zone. The two-point conversion attempt failed.
Brown had earlier intercepted a Rams pass to put the Devils in business at the Francis Marion 34-yard line, but penalties and a bad snap pushed them 36 yards back and they were forced to punt.
Late in the first half, Virgil Peoples chased down and sacked the Rams quarterback on a fourth-down play. An 11-yard, Patterson-to-Williams completion and Patterson’s 14-yard run highlighted a drive that seemed destined to put points on the board.
Facing a third-and-6 from the FM 27, Patterson was forced out of the pocket and ran forward, eluding two defenders. He spotted Jabryce Hooks alone in the corner of the end zone and threw to him for an apparent six-pointer. Despite video footage by a Mobile television station that showed differently, referees ruled that Patterson had crossed the line of scrimmage before passing the ball.
The struggling Blue Devils offense put together an impressive, sustained scoring drive early in the third period. ECHS covered 60 yards in 11 plays for a score that was not called back.
Midway through that drive came the first of two “brother acts” that played key roles in the ECHS win. Craig Brown, Malik’s brother, carried three times, including a 24-yard gain that moved the ball inside the Rams 5-yard line. Two plays later, it was Malik Brown who burst through the left side for the score. Wiggins ran in for the two-point conversion, providing the final points of the night.
That TD seemed to fire the defensive and special teams units up even more. The impact of William Bradley’s tackle on the ensuing kickoff could be heard throughout the almost-empty stadium, much to the delight of the roughly 200 people who sat in the stands.
Francis Marion completed a short pass on the next play, and Khalil Askew followed suit, providing a hit that momentarily stunned the Rams receiver. The visitors mounted a sustained drive of their own, marching to within 14 yards of the goal as the third quarter continued into the fourth. The promising series ended when Allen Patterson, younger brother of the ECHS quarterback, picked off a pass in the end zone.
“Lue had a good game, but our offense really didn’t do all that well,” Jackson said. Our defense really played well, though. Allen Patterson had an awesome game; Virgil Peoples played a pretty good game; I could name quite a few of them. We have one of the top 10 defenses, probably the top-5, in Class 4A, and they did a great job all year.”