By JOSH FRYE
The thunder rolled and lighting struck at Herbert Barnes Stadium in Atmore last Friday, August 30, as Escambia County High unveiled its quick-strike, thunder and lightning offense, to defeat Wilcox-Central 41-0 in the ECHS season opener.
Blue Devils quarterback Jacob Hammac completed 10 of 14 pass attempts for three touchdowns and 178 yards during the contest.
The Blue Devils jumped out to an early first-quarter, 14-0 lead against the Jaguars, scoring twice within the first eight minutes. Both scores were set up by long, sailing pass completions from Hammac.
Hammac began by connecting on a 34-yard pass to Tyson Moorer, which set up a 9-yard touchdown run for Trae Bradley.
On the Blue Devils next drive, with 7:10 left to go in the first quarter, Hammac connected on a 31-yard launch to Allen Patterson, setting up another Bradley touchdown run from 3-yards out. Aaron Calva added an extra-point kick after each score.
Wilcox-Central’s offense attempted to answer back but were shut down repeatedly by the strong ECHS defense.
This caused tempers to flare among the Jaguars defense, and with 4:58 left to go in the first quarter, the Wilcox-Central temper pot boiled over as a Jaguars player ripped off Bradley’s helmet.
According to the Blue Devils sideline, the Wilcox-Central player reportedly pushed Bradley in the back before throwing a punch. Bradley retaliated by throwing a punch of his own, and both players were given unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and immediately ejected, per Alabama High School Sports Association rules.
“The other kid snatched (Trea’s) helmet off, but we have to learn to control ourselves,” ECHS head coach Scott Mason said. “I have been preaching ‘controlled rage’ to our kids. We have to get a grip on it and stop letting other teams bait us into problems. If we can do that, we will be OK.
“Trae was immediately sorry; he just let his intensity get the best of him. We have to learn to channel that into positive play between the snap and the whistle.”
According to AHSSA rules, a player ejected from a contest due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty can be fined up to $300 for the first offense.
The player is given an option to take an online “captain’s course,” which can reduce the fine to $100.
According to Mason, Bradley will be required to sit out one quarter of next week’s game.
Following the altercation, the Blue Devils continued the first-quarter scoring fest. Hammac connected on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Moorer with just 25.8 seconds left, but a failed Calva PAT attempt held the ECHS lead to 20-0.
During the first Jaguars possession of the second quarter, a sea of yellow flags swarmed the Wilcox-Central offense.
Penalties proved devastating for the Jaguars in the second period. With the Wilcox-Central offense pushed back deep due to penalties, the Jaguars attempted a punt fake with the ball on their own 30-yard line.
ECHS’s defense proved devastating once again. The WC quarterback was sacked near the goal line, and the Blue Devils got into the end zone again when Craig Brown scored from 1 yard out. Calva’s kick extended the lead to 27-0.
As the Jaguars offense continued to struggle, the ECHS defense continued to reign.
ECHS’s Noah Martin helped set up the next Blue Devils touchdown through a series of short yard runs. With 2:38 left to play in the half, Martin’s runs paved the way for a Willie Banks 3-yard touchdown run. Calva’s kick extended the lead at halftime to 34-0.
The Jaguars received the ball first to start the second half of the game but were cut short in possession time as the Blue Devils forced and recovered a fumble that set up another scoring drive.
Craig Brown scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, set up by a Lajavius Johnson run into the Red Zone. Calva added his fifth extra-point, and the Blue Devils led 41-0.
Anthony McCants replaced Hammac at quarterback in the fourth quarter and created more positive yardage.
During the final drive of the game, McCants and Co. made one final push into the Red Zone, but were beat by the clock before a final scoring drive was able to come together.
“Our offense was much improved,” said Mason. “We finally seem to have a handle on the route combos that were proving to be complicated. Moving some guys around made a big difference. I think we have the right four guys in at receiver. We kicked the football well and special teams pulled through. I am exceptionally proud of Calva.”
According to Mason, Calva, who was 5-for-6 on PAT kicks, had never touched a football until spring training of this past year.
“Defense was outstanding,” Mason said. “I am proud of the total overall effort from the guys. We are a work in progress, but our guys are grasping the concept. They see what we are capable of and they are responding to the challenge.”
The Blue Devils will next host Monroe County this Friday, September 6, in their Region 1 opener.