By JOSH FRYE
Escambia County High left Hillcrest-Evergreen’s fifth-ranked Jaguars thunderstruck last Friday, September 13, defeating Hillcrest 19-15 in a wild, emotion-filled contest.
The win gives ECHS a 3-0 record for the first time since 2007, when the Blue Devils went 7-3 before falling in the first round of state playoffs.
Quarterback Jacob Hammac led the Blue Devils offense, completing 16 of 30 pass attempts for 196 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception.
Escambia County started the first quarter out strong as Hammac launched a 30-yard pass to Tyson Moorer, who wound up with five catches for 128 yards on the night.
Despite the long completion, the Blue Devils faced a fourth-down situation. They attempted a fake field goal from the 25-yard line but were halted by the Jags.
With 2:06 remaining in the first period, Hammac threw an interception which resulted in a 37-yard touchdown return by Hillcrest, putting the Jags on the scoreboard first, 7-0.
ECHS answered back almost immediately when Moorer broke a 32-yard touchdown run with 1:37 left to go in the first quarter. Aaron Calva tacked on the extra point kick to even the score at 7-7.
With a frenzy of flags and questionable officiating, the Blue Devils luck ran short during the start of the second quarter. With 10:01 left to play in the half, the Jags took advantage of a Hammac fumble and — aided by several penalties — finally scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass. A two-point conversion allowed the state-ranked Jaguars to take a 15-7 lead with 9:24 remaining in the half.
The Blue Devils attempted to answer back, taking advantage of a fumbled Jags punt return. The fumble was scooped up by an ECHS player and returned for a score, but a clipping call erased the points and sparked anger along the Blue Devils sideline and in the stands.
With 29.1 seconds remaining in the half, HCE attempted to extend the lead with a 35-yard field goal attempt, but the kick sailed wide right and Hillcrest took the 15-7 lead into the locker room.
ECHS continued to shut down the Jags offense in the second half, stopping Hillcrest when a 38-yard field goal attempt was unsuccessful.
The Blue Devils defense struck again late in the third period, forcing a Jags fumble that Willie Banks scooped up and carried 37 yards, but ECHS was unable to get into the end zone.
Late in the third period, Hammac, from deep back into Jags territory, attempted to roll out to the sidelines but was stopped by the HCE defense. As the Jaguars wrapped around Hammac, one player in the pile threw an elbow and shoulder, forcing Hammac’s helmet off and leaving the ECHS quarterback defenseless beneath a pile of Hillcrest players.
“Targeting the quarterback is not acceptable,” ECHS head coach Scott Mason said of the play. “The official admitted that he witnessed the play but didn’t make a call. Instead of doing the right thing, I was told not to worry about the play.”
That advice did little to calm the coach.
“Player safety is my number-one concern, and as a coach I had a right to worry,” he said. “Officials get mad when teams do not follow the new play rules that have been set. However, when something like this occurs, they tell us to brush it off. It makes me mad. You expect the right decision to be made and it wasn’t. Small judgement calls are usually brushed off but calls that are blown that could affect player safety are inexcusable.”
With the scoreboard continuing to lean in favor of the Hillcrest at the start of the fourth quarter, a heated and determined Blue Devils sideline erupted in chanting and cheers that ignited the ECHS offense.
Hammac launched a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Dirden, but a two-point conversion failed, and the Blue Devils still trailed by two points, 15-13, with 9:59 left to play.
The Devils defense struck again almost immediately when Jalen Barnes picked off a pass and turned the pick into a 43-yard touchdown. Another failed two-point conversion left the ECHS lead at 19-16.
With 6:33 left to play in the game, the Blue Devils defense came up with another huge play, this one a fumble forced by Nehemiah Tucker.
Hillcrest made one last-gasp effort to avoid the upset, driving deep into ECHS territory before a fourth-down pass went off the tips of a receiver’s fingers.
“Next week we face a good team and good friend,” Mason said. “Andro Williams is an excellent coach and good friend. W.S. Neal will be ready to play, and we have to focus on each week as it comes. The big win against Hillcrest-Evergreen was great and we enjoyed the game, but we have to stay focused on the task at hand.”
He also had praise for first-year kicker Aaron Calva, a soccer player who has added a dimension the team lacked in previous years.
“Calva has never kicked a football before this summer,” Mason said. “He has traditionally been a great soccer player, and this season has made the transition to the football field. We have put him in some highly stressful situations, and he always comes out victorious. He is a great kid and will be a secret weapon for us down the line this season. He knows his task and rises to it every week.”
The Blue Devils will travel to face Neal this Friday, September 20.