Cougars lose ‘battle’ 24-20

Published 8:44 am Monday, August 29, 2011

Escambia Academy quarterback Michael Thompson fires off a pass, while offensive lineman Colby White (70) blocks a Clarke Prep Gator in Friday night’s loss.|Photo by Chandler Myers

Battle was the word used by Clarke Prep Gators head coach Billy Hamilton to describe the game between the Escambia Academy Cougars and the Gators as the two region opponents gathered for a postgame prayer.

The No. 10 Gators (1-0, 1-0) and the Cougars (1-1, 0-1) battled for four quarters with neither side willing to give up as Clarke Prep squeaked out a 24-20 victory Friday night in Canoe.

It was a battle in the trenches Friday night that came down to a chance at a hail mary to win the game as the Cougars held the ball with five seconds left. On the final play, Michael Thompson was unable to escape the defensive pressure and was sacked to end the game.

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With such a thrilling end to the game, Cougars head football coach Heath Gibson saw breakdowns, he said.

“It was a close finish at the end of the game, Gibson said. “We had a breakdown in the line of scrimmage, and Michael (Thompson) couldn’t get away from their defense. Tough way to finish a game.”

The contest started out rough for the Cougars as they fumbled twice on their first possession giving the ball to the Gators, who scored on their third play from scrimmage to go up 8-0 with a two-point conversion.

Following that score, it was a back-and-forth affair as the Cougars punted their on their next two possessions and the Gators coughed the pigskin up twice.

The Gators’ third fumble led to a big break for the Cougars as Thompson hit Cameron McGhee (three receptions for 73 yards) on a 30-yard streak to put the Cougars on the board down 8-7. Thompson would finish the game 7-for-13 for 131 yards and two touchdowns.

Escambia Academy’s defense stepped up again in the ballgame holding the Gators to a punt, which led to another EA offensive outburst.

Defensively, the Cougars proved their mettle holding steady with a larger Gator team, Gibson said.

“Our defense played a great game throughout the night,” he said. “I’m proud of the way those guys fought all game. They really showed that they are going to fight each and every snap.”

After some nickel and dime plays, the Cougars line up second and 10 from the Gators 48-yard line when running back Jaylen Henry exploded for a 52-yard dash to the endzone putting the Cougars up 14-8 after a successful extra point.

Henry would finish the game with 83 yards on 16 carries.

Clarke Prep followed that touchdown up with one of their own as they methodically moved town the field on a 56 yard drive that was capped off with a 14-yard touchdown pass.

That led to halftime with the Gators ahead 16-14.

Following the break, it took the Gators until their second series to put their third touchdown on the board with a 49-yard touchdown run that put them ahead 22-14 with another successful two-point conversion.

After another trade between possessions, the Cougars found themselves stuck on their own one with the Gators stacking the box. A handoff to Henry on the snap led to a safety giving Clarke a 10-point lead.

Feeling a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter, the Cougars forced another fumble and scored in three plays with Thompson hitting Austin McGhee on a 16-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was missed leaving the Cougars down 24-20.

With time wearing down, the Cougars and Gators dug in for the final seven minutes of the game with both sides giving up possessions.

After holding the Gators to a punt with less than a minute left, Jaylen Henry gave the Cougars a glimmer of hope as he returned a punt across the 50-yard line down to the 45.

With the ball and 30 seconds, the Cougars began throwing bubble screens working to the 29 where they would come up short with five seconds left as Thompson was sacked. Ending the battle 24-20.

Offensively, the Cougars had issues protecting their backfield with the Gators pushing inside all night.

Seeing the “breakdowns” was disappointing, Gibson said.

“Offensively, our guys just missed blocking assignments,” he said. “We had breakdowns throughout the game, which put pressure on our defense. There were some shining moments, but we still need work.”

Next week, the Cougars travel to Jackson Academy for a Thursday night match up.