By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Though the final score doesn’t reflect it, Escambia County High dominated Bayside Academy during most of their Class 4A, Region 1 showdown last Friday (October14). But a long kick return by the Admirals late in the game reversed the domination.
Bayside scored five touchdowns in the final 15 minutes to storm back from a 13-point deficit and win the shootout by a 66-48 score.
“Offensively, we were just sort of in a zone,” ECHS Coach Vincent Harris said. “After not scoring a point the week before [in a 39-0 loss to state ranked T.R. Miller], I made the point on offense that we had a chance to be good, to show who we really are. But that kick return killed our momentum, kind of took the air out of us.”
Harris and his staff tried a few new things against Bayside, including making quarterback Dakota DeSpain a part of the running game.
“This is the first game we’ve really run Dakota, and he had probably 120 yards rushing,” the Blue Devils coach said.
In fact, it was a break-out game for the senior signal-caller, who (according to unofficial stats) also passed for 350 yards, including 6 touchdown tosses.
“Dakota should be the Coastal Player of the Week,” Harris said.
Another ECHS player, receiver Elijah (E.J.) Thomas, also enjoyed a breakout game.
“E.J. Thomas went absolutely crazy,” Harris said. “He had 3 TD catches and over 250 yards receiving.”
One of the brightest spots on offense couldn’t be measured by statistics.
“Lorenzo Arnold (who hauled in his seventh TD catch of the season) is such a team player,” Harris said. “Bayside double-teamed and triple-teamed him all night, but he kept blocking and running routes even when he knew the ball wasn’t coming to him.”
Arnold was responsible for another ECHS player’s score, this one by Jovaughnta Henderson. Henderson, who was running a crossing pattern, was left uncovered when Arnold raced to the corner of the end zone, pulling both safeties with him.
Harris gave credit to his entire offensive line — Devin Riley, Lebron Willis, Jacori “Tater” King, Carmelo Turner and Kaiden Arnold — for the yardage and scoring output.
“The whole group played well, and our pass protection was good,” he said. “Bayside didn’t pressure as much as other teams had, but even if they had, I think our line could have held them.”
With the team attacking mostly through the air, and with DeSpain a running threat, the ECHS’s running backs had to shift gears. They made the transition without much problem.
“James Whatley and Mason Huggins didn’t run the ball as much as they usually do, but they really turned into lead blockers for Dakota,” said Harris. “They both blocked their tails off.”
The same was true for Henderson and the team’s other wide receivers.
“Anthony McCants and Marrion Hooks (who had a big third-down catch to keep a drive alive) both did a good job of blocking,” Harris said. “Jovaughnta is a tremendous athlete and one of the most selfless players on the team. He always does the dirty work, blocking or whatever we tell him to do, and he does not complain.”
Defensively, the Blue Devils will “go back to the drawing board, try and get ready for Orange Beach.”
Harris said Exavion Bradley “stepped up and played probably better than the rest” on defense.
The ECHS mentor couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed in the outcome.
“Defensively, it was rough,” he said. “If we score 48 points, in Atmore, I feel like we should win. We scored 48 and dominated the game but we didn’t win. You’ve got to win those games.”
The Blue Devils will travel this week to meet Orange Beach’s Makos, who are 5-2 on the season, in ECHS’s final region contest. The home team’s only 2 setbacks have come at the hands of two strong programs.
“Orange Beach is another good football team,” Harris said. “They’ve only lost twice, to T.R. Miller and St. Michael. We have to retool. Our offense and defense both have got to come to play.”