By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Anyone watching last Friday’s (October 28) Escambia County High School –Northview High (Fla.) football matchup might have thought he or she was watching a rerun of the previous week’s ECHS contest.
Just as the ECHS Blue Devils had against Orange Beach on October 21, they held their own for most of the first half against the previously undefeated Chiefs, then were overwhelmed by a stronger opponent.
This time the turnaround came earlier in the game. Northview broke open a 22-14 contest with three second-period touchdowns, then added one each in the third and fourth periods for a 57-14 win that gave the Chiefs a 9-0 season record.
ECHS scored first last Friday and trailed by just a point, 15-14, after Lorenzo Arnold scored on a long kick return, then hauled in a long TD pass from Dakota DeSpain.
“Lorenzo’s a special football player,” ECHS Head Coach Vincent Harris said. “He and Dakota connected on a big, long bomb and he also had a long kickoff return. Dakota looked pretty good at times, and our offensive line did a pretty good job and held on for a while. Mason Huggins ran the ball well early in game, and James Whatley caught a big pass for us.”
The game remained close only until Northview’s Jamarkus Jefferson began to hit his stride. Jefferson picked up 187 yards on 23 carries and ran for 4 touchdowns on the night. He also pulled in a 34-yard scoring pass and scored a 2-point conversion.
“No. 6, Jefferson, that dude is legit,” Harris said. “He was really the deciding factor in that game, us tackling him. We knew that coming in, but we haven’t had too many weeks of good tackling lately, and that was an issue in this game. We had a couple times where we hit him in the mouth and stopped him, but he was just overwhelming, running behind that big old line.”
When Jefferson wasn’t plowing into the line or around end, Northview quarterback Kaden Odom found plenty of success through the air. Odom, who also intercepted a DeSpain pass, completed 6-of-9 tosses for 230 yards and three touchdowns.
The Blue Devils coach said several of his players had good games on defense, despite the lopsided final score and the fact NHS piled up 438 yards of offense.
“Christian Lee had a good game, and I definitely want to count Marrion Hooks,” he said. “Marrion’s a tough kid and he’s selfless; he weighs around 150-160 pounds, but he’ll go in there and block guys 220-230 pounds.”
Also, Lebron Hooks came up with his 10th pass interception of the season; Caliente McCants played a strong game, Gabe Hooks had a “solid game on the D-line” and Exavion Bradley, who has “really come on the last two weeks at defensive end,” also had good game.
For Northview, Luke Bridges was in on a dozen tackles to lead the team’s defensive effort, while Joe Wright, D.J. Lyons and Simeon Sanders each were in on 9 stops.
Harris, whose team opened the season with a 4-1 mark before dropping its final five contests to finish at 4-6, said the quality of opponent over that span had a lot to do with the final win-loss record.
The Blue Devils played, in succession, Region 1 foes Jackson, T.R. Miller, Bayside Academy and Orange Beach before closing out the season against Northview. Each of the four region opponents earned a playoff spot, and the Chiefs are all but guaranteed a postseason berth under Florida’s complicated seeding system.
“I would love for any school in 4A to show me a tougher ‘back 5’ than we had,” Harris said. “About the only people that beat those 4A teams, was each other, and nobody has beat Northview.
“I’m not saying those teams are tougher than us. We played some of those games with toughness and grit, but some of those teams in that back 5 were a little tougher and played with a little more grit.”
The first-year ECHS coach, who has been charged with rebuilding a program that has not made a playoff appearance in 12 years and has not had a break-even season in four years, agreed his team’s overall record wasn’t great. But, he pointed out, it could have been worse.
The Blue Devils finished at 2-8 each of the past two seasons after a 5-5 mark in 2019.
“We may have gone 4-6, but that’s progress,” he said. “We could have been 2-8 again, or we could have been 0-10, but we’re going to build off it, going to take some time to build the type program some of the old-timers are used to seeing, like those on the 1983 and 1974 teams (ECHS’s two state championship years).
“It’s been 40 years since Atmore won a state championship. We hope to eventually build this program back to that level. This season is over, so we’ll start working on next year now.”