Blue Devils slip by

Published 10:30 am Monday, September 24, 2007

By By Matthew Nascone
Katral James put the Escambia County offense on his shoulders and barreled his way to the end zone three times in the Blue Devils 22-14 win over regional foe Hillcrest-Evergreen Friday night.
James, the Blue Devils' starting running back, rushed 31 times for 209 yards and was the only Blue Devil to cross the opponent's goal line, with three scores.
James' most important run came with 1:38 remaining on the game clock in the fourth quarter. As ECHS (4-0, 3-0 in AHSAA Class 4A, Region 1) was clinging to a 15-14 lead, James busted a 56-yard run for a touchdown when the Devils were faced with third down and 26 yards for a first down.
"He (James) had a great run that put us in a position to put the icing on the cake," ECHS head coach Kyle Davis said. "But he did not do it on his own, Demetrious Bankston was sprinting down the field with him and he had a great block that allowed Katral to get to the three-yard line."
With the game and the momentum leaning towards Hillcrest in the beginning of the fourth quarter, the ECHS defense did what they do best, they came up with a big play that changed the game.
Junior cornerback Cody Sprinkle came up with a big play again, only one week removed from a three-interception day against T.R. Miller. Sprinkle picked off the Evergreen quarterback to set up a Blue Devil drive in Evergreen territory.
The Devils offense stalled and could not move the ball, but senior punter James Lykes boomed a 50-yard punt to the Evergreen five-yard line.
Evergreen took over with a 14-13 lead and ran two plays on the drive, the second of which was a botched option pitch that ended up in their own end zone for a safety and two points for ECHS, giving the Devils a 15-14 advantage.
"We have to keep talking about the defense because they are the reason we are 4-0," Davis said. "If that bunch can keep playing like they are, we will eventually get them some support on offense. But they have kept us in every game this season."
'That bunch' allowed only 78 total offensive yards against Evergreen, while the Blue Devils only added 66 yards to James' total of 209 for a total offensive output of 275 yards. The Devils won the turnover battle, with two lost fumbles to Evergreen's two interceptions and two fumbles lost. ECHS lost only two fumbles, but the offensive unit had five total fumbles.
"Our offense is not there yet, and I know that is hard to say when we are 4-0, but we would not be 4-0 without our defense," Davis said. "But I am sure our offense will come around."
Senior defensive end Jarrod Jefferson led the charge with five tackles and two sacks. Junior linebacker Eric Coley added six tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery. Sprinkle had three tackles and an interception. Senior linebacker Kyle Parrish also recovered a fumble.
Evergreen opened the scoring late in the first quarter with a 62-yard touchdown strike through the air on a tipped pass to make the score 7-0. The score stayed that way through the first quarter and half of the second quarter.
The second quarter opened with three quick possession changes. Evergreen fumbled the ball to Atmore to open the quarter, Atmore fumbled it back on the next play and the Devils took the ball back with an interception.
ECHS took advantage of the interception and scored their first touchdown of the game on a two-yard touchdown run from James. James rushed for 31 yards on five carries during the drive that started on the Atmore 33-yard line. Evergreen jumped offsides on the PAT attempt and the Devils chose to go for two points and failed, leaving the score at 7-6 for Evergreen.
The Devils scored again on their next possession. Atmore drained the clock and James punched it in on the ground after he scooped up a fumble and ran 32 yards for the end zone. Senior placekicker Elliot Faircloth's PAT was good and Atmore grabbed a 13-7 lead with 24 seconds to go in the first half.
After a couple more turnover-riddle possessions the Jaguars snagged the lead back at 14-13 with 2:48 to go in the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown run. The Devils scored the safety and the final touchdown of the game to mark a nine-point swing and the fourth victory of the season for the Devils in as many tries.
The regional win keeps the Devils at the top of the Region 1 standings heading into the region break. ECHS sits atop the standings with No. 5 Thomasville, who also won Friday night. The Tigers took down W.S. Neal easily, 42-20. In other regional action T.R. Miller defeated Monroe County 35-6 and Jackson took down Southside-Selma 20-12.
ECHS takes a break from regional action next week, as they host Class 5A No. 10 St. Paul's Friday at 7 p.m. at Herbert Barnes Stadium.

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