By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Despite some questionable officiating, Escambia County High’s Blue Devils shut down Monroe County 20-0 last Friday (September 23) to record their first 4-1 start since 2007, when Kyle Davis was in his third year as the team’s coach.
That ECHS squad won its first four games before falling to St. Paul’s Episcopal, then wound up with a 7-3 regular season mark and a trip to the playoffs, where they fell in the first round to Elmore County.
“The kids played very hard in the face of adversity,” said first-year Blue Devils Coach Vincent Harris. “It was 0-0 going into halftime, and I’m not going to sugar-coat it — the referees had a big part in it being 0-0. Every big play we had, every time we got moving, here came a flag. In the first half, we had 20 calls on us; we were third-and-50 at one time.”
With fewer flags flying after halftime, the ECHS offense was able to make some progress.
Mason Huggins, who rushed for “around 100 yards,” scored in the third period. In the final quarter, Marrion Hooks hauled in a touchdown pass from Dakota DeSpain, and James Whatley, who is closing in on 600 yards rushing, scored the final touchdown. Luis Garcia booted the PAT after the each of the first two scores but was unsuccessful on his third try, his first miss in three games.
“We did pretty good on offense,” Harris said. “We ran for nearly 300 yards, and that was after a 50-yard run and a 30-yard run were called back.”
The yardage would have been even more impressive had the officials not called back a 65-yard DeSpain-to-Lorenzo Arnold bomb in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, the swarming Blue Devils posted their second shutout in row. Harris praised the play of his defenders, as well as the work of their coach.
“I haven’t checked, but it’s probably been a long time since an Atmore team had two shutouts in a row,” Harris said. “Coach Rob (Raymond Robinson) has done a heck of a job as defensive coordinator. Jovaughnta Henderson, Huggins and Exavion Bradley all played well, and our D-line did a good job overall.”
Also shining on defense was Lebron Hooks, who recorded his seventh interception, a total that leads the state (all classes). Hooks has picked off at least one pass in every game except the St. Michael Catholic loss.
All in all, Harris was pleased with the way his team bounced back from a shaky first half.
“It was a rough game, but I’m proud of the resiliency of the kids,” he said. “They fought back, and that’s a big thing for here.”
ECHS begins a grueling four-game stretch, all region contests, this Friday when the Devils host Jackson. On successive weeks following, they play T.R. Miller, Bayside Academy and Orange Beach.
“We’re going to try our best,” Harris said. “We need to win two out of four. Jackson, to me, is quite possibly the best team, talent wise, in 4A. It’s going to be a tough football game, but we’re not going down without a fight. This is not the old Atmore; we’re not going to lay down.”