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Home sweet home

By By Matthew Nascone
There is no way that the Escambia County High School Blue Devils will be traveling for the first round of the AHSAA Class 4A playoffs this year. The Blue Devils (6-2, 5-1 AHSAA Class 4A, Region 1) locked up a first round home playoff game with a 49-21 thumping of Monroe County (1-7, 0-6) Friday night in Monroeville.
"We know we are at home no matter what and that is outstanding," ECHS head coach Kyle Davis said. "Any time you are at home in the playoffs and you don't have to travel at least three hours for a game, that is great. It is also good for the community because we get to host a home playoff game and it is something that has not happened in a while."
This day was three years in the making for Davis and his Blue Devils.
"It has been three years man, and we have seen the progression of these kids," he said. "They have turned out to be a really special bunch. Like I have said before, last year's senior class got us over the hump and into the playoffs, and this senior class has made us turn the corner. They deserve everything they get."
In the game Friday one member of that senior class had a spectacular game, while he was in there. Running back Katral James was taken out after the first series of the third quarter, but rushed for 71 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries. He added a 39-yard touchdown reception for a total of 110 yards from scrimmage.
James was not the only offensive starter to have a good game against the Tigers. Freshman quarterback Rico Stallworth added 54 yards on the ground and was 3-for-4 through the air for 80 yards and two touchdowns. He was pulled in the third quarter.
"We had 35 points in the first half and it was a good overall team thing," Davis said. "We got the ball in a lot of people's hands. We had 15 plays scripted for the game and we only ran 13 in the first half."
There were only 13 first half plays for the Blue Devils because of the quick-strike ability of ECHS. Stallworth busted 30 yards for the opening touchdown of the game on the Blue Devils first possession that had three plays. The PAT attempt by James Lykes was no good and the Blue Devils held a 6-0 lead with 7:47 to go in the first quarter.
Monroeville grabbed two first downs, but had the snap go over the punter's head on fourth down and Atmore got the ball on the Monroeville 20-yard line and Stallworth hit sophomore wide receiver Kingston Craft for 20 yards and the touchdown. James added a two-point conversion for a 14-0 Blue Devil lead with 3:44 to go in the opening quarter.
Craft finished the night with two receptions for 41 yards. Freshman receiver Marshall Roin had one catch for 39 yards.
The Tigers went three and out on their next possession and Atmore went three and in as James ran for 22 yards on a three-play drive, including a five-yard touchdown run.
Lykes nailed the PAT and ECHS had a 21-0 lead with 1:15 in the first quarter left.
Monroeville closed the gap to 14 points with a 59-yard drive and a touchdown run with 9:22 to go in the second quarter.
ECHS got the ball on their own 28-yard line and sophomore running back Denard Stephens gained eight yards on a reverse and on the next play eighth grader Nieko Williams scampered 64 yards for a touchdown. The PAT was good and ECHS held a 28-7 lead with 8:21 left in the half.
Williams finished the game with 81 yards rushing on two carries. Marc Hale added four carries for 43 yards.
ECHS senior defensive end Jarrod Jefferson covered up a fumble on Monroeville's next possession, but the Blue Devils had to punt for the first time in game. Two plays later, Lykes recovered a fumble and Atmore had the ball back.
Jefferson finished the game with nine tackles, one sack, one fumble forced and one fumble recovered. Bryant Chambers and Fred James led the defense with 12 tackles each. Hale added eight tackles, Eric Coley contributed seven tackles, Logan Morris had six and Norvel Walker and James Lykes had five tackles apiece. Lykes added a sack and a fumble recovery.
Stallworth connected with James for a 39-yard touchdown with 1:58 left in the half after senior placekicker Elliot Faircloth took a load off with a PAT for the 35-7 ECHS lead at the half.
"We have a young team and we are trying to build on what we got this year heading into next year since we have a bunch of sophomores starting this year," Monroeville co-head coach Maurice Woody said. "We only have four seniors this year, so we will keep working hard each day and try to put it all together for one game."
James racked up 51 yards rushing on three carries in the opening drive of the second half and scored from 18 yards out. Faircloth added the PAT and the Devils held a 42-7 advantage with 10:59 to go in the third quarter.
The first string was pulled after that series, but Stephens came up with a big play on defense on the next Tigers' possession. After the defense allowed Monroeville to gain 63 yards, he took the ball out of the Tigers' running back's hands and returned it 30 yards, but ECHS turned it right back on the next play.
"The young guys are working just as hard as the starters are and they deserved to get some playing time," Davis said. "They make us who we are and it was good to see them play out there. It is one of those games where you enjoy getting everyone some playing time, but you hate it for Monroe County because we have been there and we know how they feel. But we like it for our team. Who knows, that could be our boost going into the playoffs."
The Tigers scored two touchdowns to the Devils one in the last 13 minutes of play. Senior running back Jaquan Coley scored the Blue Devils final touchdown from five yards out with 7:31 to go in the game.
"This game was a culmination of our hard work," Davis said. "I was really concerned going in because the guys were goofing around in pregame and I lost it. I had to have a come to Jesus meeting with them and we did what we had to do and they came onto the field focused."