Tigers slip past Devils
Published 5:06 pm Sunday, August 31, 2008
By By Adam Prestridge
It wasn’t meant to be for Escambia County High School’s football team Friday night in their season opener against rival T.R. Miller.
Despite overcoming numerous questionable calls and some key turnovers, one call late in the fourth quarter did the Blue Devils in as the Tigers managed to slip out of Herbert Barnes Stadium with a 22-21 win over the Blue Devils.
With only 3:14 left on the game clock and T.R. Miller leading 22-19, sophomore quarterback Rico Stallworth bulled his way into the end zone from 1 yard out for what was thought to be the go-ahead score for the Blue Devils. As he crossed the goal line his arm was pulled back and the ball came free. The Tigers recovered and the play was ruled a fumble at the 1-yard line. The call received boos from Devil fans and did not sit well with the ECHS coaching staff.
On T.R. Miller’s ensuing drive, the Blue Devils’ defense stood firm and held the Tigers to five yards for a three and out. A 5-yard penalty pushed Miller back to the 1-yard-line and the coaching staff opted for a safety in the back of the end zone as ECHS inched closer, 22-21.
Following the free kick, the Blue Devils took possession of the pigskin at the Tigers’ 49-yard line. Following two short gains, ECHS attempted to call a timeout, but officials did not stop the clock noting that the Blue Devils did not have one remaining. Stallworth quickly tried to stop the clock, kneeling on the ball instead of spiking it, which did not stop the clock. As the clock continued to run, Stallworth again kneeled on the ball on fourth down to give Miller possession on downs with only seconds remaining.
With the win, T.R. Miller avenged last year’s 10-2 home loss to Escambia County in the grudge match.
Miller head coach Jamie Riggs said he was pleased with his team’s performance in a game that saw just about every type scenario.
The Tigers (1-0) struck first after capitalizing on a turnover after Cortez Banks picked off Stallworth’s pass intended for junior Jon Dean and trotted into the end zone from 41 yards out. Following the extra point kick by Corey Rilling Miller led 7-0 with 10:31 remaining in the first quarter.
ECHS answered back with a score of its own on the next drive when Stallworth connected with junior receiver Denard Stephens on a 34-yard pass play to cap off a four-play, 63-yard drive. Freshman Neiko Wilkson booted the PAT to tie the game, 7-7, with 8:36 left in the first quarter.
Blue Devil junior defensive back Michael “Tank” Mitchell picked off Miller quarterback Wil Riggs’ errant pass on the next drive to give ECHS the ball back. Three plays later, the home team was forced to punt.
The two teams swapped possession back-and-forth until the Tigers were able to capitalize once again on a Blue Devil fumble at the 19-yard line. Five plays later, Wil Riggs snuck in from 1 yard out for the score. Rilling added the PAT to give the visitor’s a 14-7 lead.
The second quarter was scoreless for both teams, which were plagued with penalties and turnovers.
In the second half, the Blue Devils came out with new life forcing a turnover on Miller’s first series. Five plays later, the home team found the end zone when Stallworth ran it in from 2 yards out. The PAT was no good, but ECHS had cut into T.R. Miller’s lead, 14-13 with 10:02 left in the third quarter.
The Blue Devils gained their first lead of the game late in the third quarter when senior running back Michael Thomas put them on top 19-14 with a 15-yard gallop for the score with 2:17 left in the third. The two-point conversion failed.
Banks ran in from 6 yards out to put the Tigers back on top, 20-19, with 8:49 left in the game. Terez Land hauled in Wil Riggs’ pass for the two-point conversion to make the score 22-19.
Stallworth led the Blue Devils’ offense with 296 all-purpose yards including 179 yards through the air and 117 yards on the ground. He completed 11 of 20 passes, connecting one for a score and having one picked off, and rushed 23 times scoring one touchdown.
Thomas finished with 50 yards and one touchdown on the ground and caught seven passes for 113 yards.
Stephens finished with 36 yards receiving and one touchdown, while Dean finished with two receptions for 30 yards.
The Blue Devils will host Vigor in its first Class 5A, Region 1 battle. Davis said the key to success next week is his team putting the tough loss to Miller behind them and continuing to work hard.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.