Devils ‘whipped’

Published 10:32 am Saturday, November 20, 2010

ECHS running back Neiko Williams looks for running room Friday night.|Photo by Adam Prestridge

The final on the scoreboard was not what the home crowd expected on Friday night with the Bibb County Choctaws coming to town and whipping the hosting Escambia County Blue Devils 35-13 in the quarterfinals of the AHSAA playoffs.

The Blue Devils (9-4, 4-3) had their season ended sooner than they had hoped after coming back to defeat the Jackson Aggies in the second round of the playoffs last Friday.

The contest between ECHS and the Choctaws was seen as a battle by both coaches when interviewed earlier in the week, but it turned out to be an uphill battle for the Blue Devils.

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Blue Devils head coach Mark Heaton said his team was simply overpowered by a larger opponent.

“They were just physically stronger and bigger than us,” Heaton said. “They just whipped us. They lined up and came right at us. Our kids played hard every second and that’s all we can ask of them. I’m proud of what they have accomplished in such a short time and the Lord has just blessed us. We are just fortunate to be where we are at.”

The first three possessions of the game proved to be the deciding point with the Blue Devils stopping the Choctaws cold on their first drive including a sack by defensive linemen Dalvin Craft and Tyler Nero.

After forcing the punt, it seemed as if the Blue Devils might take over with the momentum, but their drive would come to an abrupt halt on a deep pass from Rico Stallworth intended for receiver Gavin Salter that was intercepted by the Choctaws and returned to their own 14.

From that starting position, Bibb County opened a 13-play scoring drive that was capped off by an eight-yard run by Choctaws running back Cameron Cutts. With the extra point, Bibb County led 7-0.

Heaton said the turnover was a looming factor in the game.

“We have chance to stuff them on their first possession and get the ball back, which was huge,” Heaton said. “We had a chance to get some points there, but the turnover with the interception really hurt us. It was right there in the first two possessions that hurt us. Playing a team like this, we really needed to jump on them quick and beat their gameplan, but we didn’t do it.”

The next ECHS drive would move the ball down the field with Stallworth hitting Neiko Williams with a 44-yard pass, but three plays later Stallworth turned the ball over again this time fumbling at the Bibb County 28.

It only took three plays and Cutts was off to the races as he took the ball 59 yards and rumbled to the end zone to put Bibb County on top 14-0 with the PAT.

On their next series, the Blue Devils again had no problem moving the ball early in their drive as they pushed 42 yards from their own 38 to the Bibb County 20, but were unable to convert a fourth down conversion.

Bibb County again moved the ball with Cutts getting the bulk of the yards in the five-play 80-yard drive. He ran for six yards, 10 yards and scored his third touchdown on a 35-yard run that gave the Choctaws a 21-0 lead that they rolled into halftime with.

After halftime, it didn’t look any better with the Blue Devils offense punting on their first possession and allowing the Choctaws to move down the field for Cutts’ fourth touchdown of the game on a 12-yard run to put Bibb County up by 28.

The teams battled back-and-forth for the next three series with the Blue Devils punting twice and the Choctaws punting once.

The stalemate would not last long with the Choctaws scoring their final touchdown of the game to give themselves a 35-point cushion and a chance to play some younger players.

The shutout would not last for Bibb County though with Atmore finally putting a scoring drive together on the following series.

With freshman Chris Johnson back at quarterback, the Blue Devils drove 80 yards in seven plays with Johnson completing three passes including a 7-yard slant pattern to senior wide receiver Nick Flowers to get ECHS on the board with the score 35-7.

Two series later, the Blue Devils would strike again this time on defense as the Choctaws fumbled the football with defensive back Cedric Tolbert returning it for a touchdown. Nero’s extra point would be blocked and with the score 35-13, the Choctaws would run out the clock.

With the season at an end, Heaton said he is excited about the future of his program.

“We’ve got good kids,” he said. “I’m excited about next season. We just have to hit the weight room. That’s what’s going to be important for us. We’ve got a great class coming back, but strength and conditioning will be key.”