Cougars survive nailbiter 28-26

Published 5:41 pm Saturday, October 2, 2010

Escambia Academy’s game against the Southern Choctaw Rebels went down the final whistle with the Cougars coming away with a 28-26 victory thanks in part to a strong effort by their defense.

The Cougars (4-3, 2-2) were ahead of the Rebels by 20 points in the third quarter before turnovers allowed Southern Choctaw to sneak back into the game.

Cougars head coach Heath Gibson said his offense played below par giving up five turnovers to the Rebels, but added his defense gave a strong performance.

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“Offensively, we slopped around all night, but our defense played really well,” Gibson said. “We needed the defense to play that strong as far as confidence goes. Our offense just gave the ball up too many times. I know we had five turnovers, but we just can’t put ourselves in those situations, but when you win you win, and it feels good to be on top.”

Despite the five turnovers, the Cougars were able to put up 301 yards of offense with junior running back Jaylen Henry gaining a large chunk of those yards carrying the ball 29 times for 213 yards and three touchdowns in the win.

The first half of the contest was a defensive battle with neither team gaining much momentum in the first quarter as each team was unable to make it to the end zone.

The Rebels finally caught a break early in the second quarter when a Rebels defender intercepted a Cougars pass thrown by Michael Thompson.

On the following drive, the Rebels scored on their second play from scrimmage with a running back rumbling 70 yards for a touchdown and with a successful two-point conversion, the Rebels led 8-0.

The Academy would not be held off the scoreboard long after that touchdown though as they put together their own scoring drive.

Starting at their own 46 yard line, the Cougars pushed their way down the field gaining yards with Thompson, Henry and running back Braxton Chastang each carrying the ball. Ten plays later and Henry scampered in from four-yards out to help the Cougars get on the board with a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game at eight.

Following those scores, each team had a three-and-out with punts and went into halftime knotted at 8-8.

Gibson said it was clear at halftime that the defenses were key to gaining momentum.

“I think that offenses struggle more as the year goes on because people can scheme for you better after seeing it on film,” Gibson said. “That was the case for both teams and the defenses really did a tremendous job in battling in the first half.”

Escambia Academy opened the second-half with the ball on their own 47-yard line and moved the ball seven yards on their first carry with Jaylen Henry pushing to the Rebels’ 47. On the next play, Henry busted loose through the Rebels’ defense and galloped 46-yards for his second touchdown to put the Cougars up 15-8 with the extra point by Phillip Kabbot.

The Cougars defense would step up and hold the Southern Choctaw offense at bay on their next series to get the ball back to their offense and it only took EA three plays to get back to the end zone.

Henry opened the drive with a 40 yard run to the Rebels 12. That run was followed by Chastang pushing six yards to the six-yard line and Thompson capped off the drive with a scramble to the end zone to get the Cougars a 14-point lead up 22-8.

Again the Cougars’ defense was tight holding back Southern Choctaw to force another punt.

Starting on their own 42-yard line, the Cougars put together a methodical five-play drive with Chastang picking up 11 yards on the drive, while Henry gained 29 yards including a 22-yard dash to pay dirt putting the Cougars up 28-8.

The Rebels found some momentum on their next drive driving down the field through the air with their quarterback connecting with a receiver for a 15-yard pass-and-catch to make the score 28-14.

After this touchdown, the wheels fell off for the Academy offense as they would hit a wall and suffer several stops including three fumbles.

Southern Choctaw would take advantage scoring on their next two possessions to pull within two points due to failed extra points.

With the score 28-26, the Rebels got the ball thanks to a turnover on downs by the Cougars, but tight defense in the secondary would stop them as time expired.

Gibson said his defense stepped up and prove their worth.

“I’m so proud of our defensive players and the coaching staff,” Gibson said. “They did a great job and helped us hold on for this win.”

Next week, the Cougars travel to Southern Academy. Kick off is set for 7 p.m.

Escambia Academy running back Jaylen Henry runs the ball against Marengo Academy in the Cougars win on Sept. 10.|Photo by Adam Prestridge