Second-half surge wins it for EA

Published 3:07 pm Monday, September 26, 2005

By By Tim Cottrell
It has been said that you can learn a lot about one's character when times are tough.
If that is so, the Escambia Academy Cougars (4-1, 4-0) displayed quite a bit of character in coming from behind to defeat their region rival Evangel Academy Lions (3-2, 3-2) Friday night at Bachelor Field in Canoe.
After falling behind 20-16 at halftime, the Cougar defense stiffened and the offense rolled behind the legs of fullback Joe Drew to take a 28-20 win.
Many observers had predicted a shootout coming in to the game, and those observers seemed to be right early on. Both teams marched up and down the field throughout the first half.
The Lions struck first in the game, scoring on a short run with 7:41 to go in the first quarter. The two-point conversion attempt was no good.
The Cougars struck right back, driving down the field in nine plays and capping off the drive with a four yard touchdown run by Joe Drew. A Kevin Maher two-point conversion run gave EA an 8-6 lead with 3:19 remaining in the opening quarter.
Evangel once again answered right back, scoring on a 16 yard pass play early in the second quarter. The two point conversion was good, giving the Lions a 14-8 lead.
The Cougars took the lead back again, driving down the field and scoring on a 10-yard Bruce Smith touchdown run. Maher once again added the two-point conversion, giving the Cougars a 16-14 lead with 4:12 remaining in the first half.
A desperation heave on 4th and 10 gave the Lions their final score of the half (and the game), ending in a 41-yard touchdown pass. The Lions went to the break leading 20-16.
The Cougar strategy in the second half was fairly simple. The defense clamped down on the Lion running game while Joe Drew carried the load for the offense, netting almost all of his 21 carries and 155 rushing yards during the second half.
Neither team crossed the goal line during the third period, but the Cougars finally took the lead back on a ten yard run from Drew only five seconds into the final frame. The two-point conversion attempt was no good, giving the Cougars a lead they would never relinquish.
After stopping the Lions cold, the Cougars put the game away with a 5-yard Maher touchdown run with 2:19 remaining in the game.
The Cougars racked up 403 rushing yards in the game, led by Drew's 155 yards and 101 yards on nine carries from Smith. Maher contributed 63 yards on five carries; quarterback Cody Norton added 58 yards on four carries; and John Brantley netted 26 yards on three carries.
Cougar head coach Heath Gibson said Drew had been preparing for second-half performances like this one all off-season.
"I told him last year, because I knew he wanted to play fullback, that if he wanted to play it he was going to have to prove he could do it," Gibson said. "That meant cutting two-tenths of a second off his 40 time, dropping some weight, getting in good shape. He did everything we asked of him. He's in great shape, and he's ready to carry the load in the second half like he did tonight."
Gibson said there wasn't any major concern going into halftime behind, but the defense did make some major adjustments.
"The biggest thing we had to do was make some defensive adjustments," he said. "We felt like we could score every time we touched the ball, but we felt like we weren't getting enough chances to do that. Coach Barnett made some changes and we got things going. We told them all week that this team was a little bit faster and a little bit stronger, but if we work on the things we do well we'd be all right."
Since a horrendous performance in week one against Faith Academy, the Cougars have gelled into a cohesive unit. Gibson said the maturation of the offense has been the key to their current four-game winning streak.
"The biggest difference is our offense has come around," he said. "We turned the ball over four times that game, and the last four we haven't turned it over more than once. We've gotten in good shape, and we can just punish teams in the second half. The offensive line has really come together. We've got some big linemen, and we have the ability to run the ball at both sides of a defense."
The Cougars will travel to take on another region foe, Coosa Valley, Friday night at 7:30.

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