By JOSH FRYE
Despite a five-touchdown, 222-yard rushing performance from Bubba Nettles, Escambia Academy’s hopes of capturing another AISA Class AA state football title were dashed last Friday, November 20 by Chambers Academy.
The Rebels took advantage of three EA touchdowns that were called back to claim a 36-34 victory at Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl.
This season’s state championship appearance was the fifth straight for the Cougars, who have appeared in six different championship games over the past seven years.
For Chambers Academy, Friday’s win marked the team’s fifth straight title-game appearance and their second state championship.
Last year the Cougars fell short in the AA championship game, losing 23-6 to Autauga Academy.
“The guys played a great game despite the outcome,” EA head coach Hugh Fountain said. “We played one of the best games of the season. We made mistakes, and I could have made some different calls that would have put them in better situations. Chambers was a great opponent and played a great game; they earned the win.”
A 43-yard pass from Landon Sims to Tyler Ray-Cloud helped set up EA’s first scoring drive, which was capped by a Nettles 2-yard run. An extra two points gave the Cougars an 8-0 advantage with just over nine minutes left in the first quarter.
The Rebels answered with a score of their own just minutes later. Then, with just over 2:30 left in the first quarter, Nettles scored his second touchdown. This one came on a 40-yard scamper.
Using a no-huddle offense, CA answered back with another score and regained the lead at 16-14, an advantage that stood at the end of the first quarter.
Second-quarter play became a nightmare for the Cougars as three touchdowns were called back.
The first came on an unnecessary roughness call on a Nettles 48-yard run with 11:08 left in the half. The second callback came on the following drive as Sims connected with Cloud on a long TD pass, but Sims was flagged for throwing the ball after passing the line of scrimmage.
After the second callback, the Rebels struck with another scoring drive, extending their lead to 22-14.
The Cougars attempted another comeback when Sims broke free and scored on a 65-yard run, but the score was again called back due to an EA penalty, and the Rebels took the 22-14 lead into the halftime locker.
An 81-yard touchdown run by Nettles during EA’s first possession of the second half brought the Cougars to within two points, but the PAT attempt was unsuccessful, and they trailed 22-20.
The Rebels answered back with another scoring drive in the period and rebuilt their lead again to 10 points.
Trailing 30-20 during the opening of the fourth quarter, Nettles cut the gap to four points when he rushed for his fourth touchdown with 7:23 left in the game. Sims nailed the extra-point kick, and EA trailed by a 30-27 margin.
With just over two and a half minutes left to play in the season’s final contest, Chambers scored on a breakout play and took a 36-27 lead.
The Cougars fought desperately to stay in the fight.
Sims connected with Randall Bonds on a 16-yard pass that set the Cougars up in at the 1-yard line.
Nettles went in for his fifth touchdown of the night to complete the scoring drive, but an onside kick was recovered by Chambers, and time ran out on the Cinderella comeback attempt.
Sims finished the game with 195 passing yards, completing 9 of 20 attempts.
According to Fountain, Nettles — who finished with 21 carries for 225 yards and also tacked on 60 receiving yards — played one of his best games in a Cougars uniform.
“We fought hard,” Fountain said. “We had some issues that hurt us. The touchdown callbacks during the second quarter took the wind from our sails, and there were other key plays in the second half of the game that we botched. (Chambers) played a great game, and hats are off to them.”
Fountain stressed that despite the championship game setback, his 10-2 team has had a great season and he is proud of what the team accomplished.
“We have had a ton of support,” Fountain said. “You want to win the title for the parents, teachers, town and everyone that has supported us, but it is still hard to hang your head when you know that you accomplished the goal of being in that game. Even when you lose; it is a huge accomplishment and a great end to the season.”
News photo by Ditto Gorme