Cougars win nailbiter
By By Matthew Nascone
As Escambia Academy quarterback Jon Dean knelt on the ball with one minute left in the Cougars opening game of the season Friday, the relief of victory could be seen on the faces of every coach and player on the EA sideline.
The Cougars (1-0) grabbed a 14-12 win Friday night against the Crenshaw Christian Academy Cougars (0-1) in a game that was not decided until that kneel down by Dean. The kneel down was made possible when safety Cody Norton intercepted Crenshaw quarterback Bryan Brasington on a fourth down play.
"The defense won this ball game for us," Gibson said. "They played a great game and they had their back against the wall and came out on top. I was proud to see that."
Before EA could wind the clock down to triple zeros they were caught in a battle. That battle saw them score the first touchdown of the game on the legs of senior fullback Joe Drew.
Drew rushed for 34 yards on five carries in the Cougars' opening drive and scored a touchdown from the five yard line. He finished the game with 160 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns.
The rest of the first quarter saw more bruising running from Drew and the quick feet of wingbacks Cody Norton and Kevin Maher and Dean at quarterback. The quarter ended with EA up 6-0.
The second quarter opened with an interception by Drew, but EA gave the ball right back on an errant pass from Dean. Crenshaw took advantage and Brasington hit one of his receivers on a go route for a 26-yard completion and touchdown to knot the score at 6-6.
The teams went into halftime with the score tied, but EA came out and stopped Crenshaw on the first drive of the half. The wide sweep play with the running back gained Crenshaw yardage in the first half, but EA defensive coordinator Jason Barnett said the Cougars found a way to stop it at the half.
"We were able to move some personnel into the box and we walked a linebacker up to that spot they were hitting us," Barnett said. "And that made a big difference for us. They stopped going to that play after that."
After the opening drive stop for the Cougar defense, the offense responded with a score to break the tie and give EA a 12-6 lead. The catalyst for the drive was again Drew, as he ran for 42 yards on three carries including a 36-yard scamper and a three-yard touchdown run.
Drew busted through the Crenshaw defensive front for a crucial two-point conversion. On the next play freshman cornerback Michael "Tank" Mitchell intercepted a pass and ran it back 30 yards.
"Michael Mitchell really stepped up for us," Barnett said. "It was his first varsity football start and he did great. He is not the tallest kid out there at 5 feet, but today I think he was the biggest kid out there."
Mitchell finished the game with three tackles and one interception.
Barnett said a few other first-start guys stepped up for the team.
"Brett Wilkins and Blayne Garrett really stepped up for us and made some plays," he said. "And Tra Odom played in his first ever football game and played great. I think they threatened his side of the field in the end zone four times and came away with nothing."
Following the Mitchell interception EA moved the ball down the field to the two yard line, but could not push it across and turned the ball over. The first play from scrimmage for Crenshaw was stuffed by the EA front, but the second play broke the game open. Brasington hit a receiver streaking down the field for a 99-yard touchdown strike and closed the EA lead to 14-12.
But the EA defense held Crenshaw from ever reaching the end zone again and Norton sealed the deal with the late interception.
Dean ended the game with 48 rushing yards on nine carries, Kevin Maher had 24 yards on five carries and Norton added 59 yards on five carries. Leading tacklers for the team were Dean with seven, Odom with five, Norton with four and Mitchell with three.
Gibson said this EA team is a young team and getting that first win will help them down the road.
"This is a real big win for these guys," he said. "And it makes me have more confidence in these guys because I know they can win."
EA hits the road for a Sept. 1 matchup with Patrician Academy in their first Alabama Independent School Association Class 2A East Region game.