By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Prior to the opening of the football season, first-year Escambia County High coach Vincent Harris made only one promise about his effort to rebuild the ECHS program. Harris promised that, win or lose, his team would not quit.
The Blue Devils kept up their end of the bargain last Friday, September 30. Although the team fell to Class 4A, Region 1 foe Jackson by a 49-21 score, the players were still scrapping in the final period.
“The kids didn’t quit,” Harris said. “I’m proud of the way they came back out for the second half. We could have quit, hung our heads, tucked our tails and ran, but the kids stood up and fought.”
Jackson, one of the toughest teams in a tough region, took command early, scoring 3 times in the first period for a 21-0 lead. ECHS cut into that lead before the period ended when quarterback Dakota DeSpain and his favorite receiver, Lorenzo Arnold, hooked up on an 85-yard bomb. Luis Garcia kicked the PAT to cut the deficit to 14 points.
The touchdown catch was Arnold’s only reception of the night, as Jackson double-teamed throughout the game.
“We probably should have thrown to him a little bit more than we did, but Jackson had a good defensive plan,” Harris said.
Jackson kept pouring it on in the second quarter, putting 2 more TDs on the board, but Lebron Hooks picked off a pass and returned it 25 yards into the end zone. Garcia’s kick made it 35-14 at the half.
Hooks, who had another interception in the game, now has 9 picks. That total leads the state (all classifications) and ranks fifth in the nation, according to MaxPreps.
“You’d think people would quit throwing at him, but they keep throwing it his way,” Harris said of the first-year football player, who plays centerfield for the Blue Devils baseball team.
Jackson upped its lead to 49-14 with a pair of third-quarter scores, but Jovaughnta Henderson scored on a 26-yard run in the final stanza, and Garcia booted the PAT to account for the final score.
Offensively, ECHS couldn’t seem to get untracked. DeSpain connected on 7 of 15 passes for 136 yards as the Blue Devils tried to stay with the Aggies through the air.
James Whatley, the team’s leading rusher, was held to 32 yards on 11 carries, and the team rushed for just 81 yards on the night.
“We didn’t run the ball a lot,” Harris explained. “We threw it, trying to catch up.”
Defensively, Whatley led the team with 4 solo tackles and 3 assists. Mason Huggins had 6 solo tackles, while Exavion Bradley and Lebron Hooks were in on 5 tackles each. Marrion Hooks added an interception.
ECHS will play its second tough region contest this Friday, when they travel to play state ranked T.R. Miller, which leads the region with a 4-0 mark, in Miller’s homecoming game.
“I think we’ll have the kids ready to play,” Harris said. “It’s just whether we can get over the hump. We’ve got the talent, so it will be a case of who wants it more. It’s going to be another fight.”
ECHS is now 4-2 on the season, 2-2 and tied with three other teams for third place in the region.