ECHS falls to Neal in postponed game
By BY SCOTT COOPER, SPECIAL TO THE ADVANCE
The postponement of a scheduled Friday night non-regional meeting with the Escambia County Blue Devils until Saturday due to field conditions only seemed to intensify the manner in which the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles burst from the starting gate.
The Blue Eagles built a 14-0 lead by scoring a pair of touchdowns on their first two snaps from center and cruised from there to an easy 47-28 win. Although the Blue Devils finished the contest with over 300 total yards and 28 points, the majority came after Neal built a 33-6 halftime lead and emptied the bench through the final two quarters.
With the victory, the Blue Eagles extended their winning streak to three and improved to 3-2 on the season.
Escambia County received the opening kickoff and quickly learned the Blue Eagles' defense meant business.
Beginning from their 32-yard line, the Blue Devils faced a first down and five from the 37-yard line after Neal jumped offside on the initial snap of the game. A running play on the following snap was stopped by Roc Herbert for a 1-yard gain before a second down pass attempt fell incomplete. Then, Keith Woods and Cory Freeman teamed to sack the Blue Devils' quarterback for an 11-yard loss and force a punt. The snap from center sailed over the Escambia County punter's head and was downed on the 1-yard line.
On Neal's first offensive play of the game, Nick Benjamin took it across the goal line on a quarterback sneak. The PAT was wide of the mark, but the Blue Eagles were up 6-0 with less than two minutes expired from the clock.
Following Kendreal Williams' kickoff into the end zone, the Blue Devils started from the 20-yard line and threatened to put points on the scoreboard before the Blue Eagles' defensive unit bowed its neck and stopped the drive dead in its tracks.
On the first snap from center at the 25-yard line following a 5-yard Neal penalty, the Escambia County quarterback kept the football on an option play to the right and appeared to be heading to the end zone before Marcus Folmar caught and pulled him down at the Neal 18-yard line. From there the drive went backward, as Herbert and Benjamin sniffed-out a first down run for a 3-yard loss. Woods, Williams, and Craig Tagudar combined to sack the Blue Devils' quarterback for a 7-yard loss on second down. From the Blue Eagles' 28-yard line, after being thrown for consecutive losses, Escambia County attempted both third and fourth down passes that were unsuccessful.
After taking possession of the ball on downs, the Blue Eagles called on Alphonso Gross to get things going. Gross did just that when he sped around right end and headed down the sideline for a 72-yard touchdown run. Gross got the call again and cut it up the middle for the two-point conversion to give Neal a 14-0 advantage with 7:49 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Blue Devils started their next possession from their own 22-yard line and found the Neal defense had not lost any intensity. Escambia County managed one first down, but was forced to punt after big defensive plays by Herbert, Tagudar, Williams, and Chris Johnson thwarted the drive.
Beginning from the Neal 15-yard line following the Blue Devils' punt, the Blue Eagles embarked on a 6-play, 85-yard touchdown march that broke the game wide open.
Gross gained five yards on first down and then followed that with a 13-yard scamper to the 33-yard line. On the next play, Benjamin connected with J.J. Pitts on an out pattern for 14 yards to the 47-yard line. Gross took the pitchout around right end into the end zone on the next play, but the ball was brought back to the Neal 41-yard line after a holding call on the Blue Eagles. Undaunted, the Blue Eagles came right back with Folmar on the next play for a two-yard run. Folmar then took the pitchout on the next play, sped around left end and proceeded to outrun the Blue Devils' defense the remaining 57 yards into the end zone. The Blue Eagles led 20-0 after the PAT was unsuccessful and with 1:56 still showing on the clock in the first quarter.
After shutting-down Escambia County's offensive efforts on the next series, the Blue Eagles began another scoring drive from the Blue Devils' 45-yard line.
Following a first down pass attempt that fell incomplete, Gross carried the football four straight times. A second down run gained eight yards, and was followed by a carry for six more yards. A toss sweep to the right produced a 21-yard gain down to the 5-yard line before a run up the middle covered the remaining yardage needed for the score. The two-point conversion attempt was stopped, making the score 26-0 with 10:53 left in the second quarter.
The Blue Eagles' defense again flexed its muscles on Escambia County's next offensive series, forcing a punt that was returned to the Blue Devils' 23-yard line.
Only two plays were required for Neal to further widen the margin, as a 20-yard pass completion from Benjamin to Folmar was followed by a 3-yard Gross run to paydirt. Brad Jerkins' PAT attempt split the uprights to give the Blue Eagles a 33-0 cushion with 8:02 remaining before intermission.
The Blue Devils put a dent in Neal's lead by getting on the scoreboard with their next possession. Facing third down and 10 from the Escambia County 25-yard line, the Blue Devils quarterback went back to pass, found his receivers were covered and pulled the ball down on his way to a 75-yard touchdown run. The PAT was missed, ending the first half scoring at 33-6.
Neal produced the only points of the third quarter on a 20-yard touchdown run by Gross that made the score 40-6 after Benjamin's PAT.
In the fourth quarter, the Blue Eagles' coaching staff took advantage of the big lead and gave most of the team an opportunity to see some playing time.
Escambia County broke a couple of big plays in the opening minutes of the final period that resulted in touchdowns. A 48-yard touchdown run followed by the successful two-point conversion made the score 40-14. Then, an 83-yard touchdown run pulled the Blue Devils closer at 40-20 after the failed two-point conversion attempt.
Neal earned its final points of the contest on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Benjamin and a Spencer Williamson PAT that made the score 47-20 with just under three minutes left in the game.
A five-play, 80-yard drive by the Blue Devils closed-out the final-quarter scoring barrage. The touchdown came on a five-yard pass play and was followed by another pass completion for the two-point conversion that made the scoreboard's final total show a 47-28 Neal victory.