Escambia Academy makes it to playoffs

Published 11:38 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2004

By By Arthur McLean
The Escambia Academy Cougar football team is occupying a position it hasn't held in recent memory: the chance to be the top seeded football team in its class.
The Cougars are 7-1 so far this season and ranked No. 1 in the east region, Class IIA in the AISA. They are 6-0 in regional play, and with a win against Abbeville Friday, could take homefield advantage for the state playoffs.
"We've had one team that went 9-1, but that was before there was a playoff system," said head football coach Heath Gibson.
Making things more interesting this year, rescheduling because of Hurricane Ivan means the championship game that would have been played in Troy, might now well be played at home for the team with homefield advantage.
So how did the Cougars get here? By riding a dominating defense and an explosive offense on a small team loaded with senior talent and leadership.
Gibson said the senior leadership on the team has given the whole squad a strong work ethic. "They're willing to do whatever we ask of them," he said. "They're willing to do what it takes."
That work ethic this year has focused on defense. Last season, the Cougars allowed an average of 30 points a game on defense. This season, that average is hovering around seven points per game. Take away a beating from much large Faith Academy to start the season, and that average would drop again.
The Cougar defense is also getting more turnovers this year. "We believe if we can get three turnovers on defense, we will win the game," Gibson said.
Gibson also credits new faces on the coaching staff for the improved defense. Athletic Director Jason Allen is serving as the defensive coordinator, Randall Barnett coaches defensive backs and Roy White coaches defensive line.
"This coaching staff is probably one of the best in the state," Gibson said. "They do a great job preparing the team and breaking down film."
The Cougars have also seen an improvement in their offensive output, averaging more than 30 points per game. Fullback Kevin White has rushed for 832 yards this season, and Norris Brooks has broken several long runs. Tight end Buckie Dawson has developed better hands this year and made some big catches.
Gibson also credits an improving offensive line for the Cougars success this year.
Escambia Academy has seen tremendous success on the basketball court, winning boys and girls state championships last season. Gibson would like to see a football trophy join the basketball trophies, but won't talk like that now.
"First, we have to get through the playoffs," he said. "We just have to take it one game at a time."

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