Blue Devils fall to Bulldogs, 40-18

Published 12:45 am Saturday, September 7, 2013

Escambia County’s Gaetyn Thames runs away from Clarke County defenders in the Blue Devils’ 40-18 loss Friday in Atmore.

Escambia County’s Gaetyn Thames runs away from Clarke County defenders in the Blue Devils’ 40-18 loss Friday in Atmore.

The Escambia County High School Blue Devils lost their first region matchup of the year Friday night in a 40-18 pounding at the hands of the Clarke County Bulldogs. However, they may have found the future of their program, as backup quarterback Gaetyn Thames stepped in for injured senior Chris Johnson and accounted for all three of the Blue Devils’ scores.

With Johnson nursing what coaches called a minor knee injury, Thames, a sophomore linebacker, stepped in to take snaps and found some success with two touchdown passes and a third score on the ground.

With the Devils trailing 6-0 early in the second quarter, Thames ended a long drive with a 6-yard touchdown run for ECHS to tie the game at 6-6. The Blue Devils attempted a fake extra point kick, but failed to make the two-point conversion.

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Clarke County bounced back with a long drive of their own, capping it off with a touchdown run on a halfback bounce to the outside, to lead 12-6 with halftime approaching.

Clarke County was able to capitalize on another Blue Devil mistake late in the first half, scoring on the recovery of an ECHS fumble deep in their own territory to extend their lead to 20-6 heading into the locker room.

The Bulldogs began the second half with a quick, 25-yard touchdown strike to pull even farther ahead, leading 27-6 early in the third quarter. Only a series later, Clarke County found pay dirt again on a 39-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kenny Horn to lead the Blue Devils 34-6 with plenty of ball left to play.

The Blue Devils once again showed their youth on the ensuing kickoff return, coughing up the ball to give Clarke County prime field position. The Bulldogs took full advantage of the mistake, with a nearly-50-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run to give them a 40-6 lead.

Despite a wide scoring gap, Thames was able to put together several late-game scoring drives for the Blue Devils. With 1:23 to play in the third, Thames connected with receiver Darian Staples for a 33-yard touchdown pass. Thames found the end zone again in the fourth quarter with a 51-yard touchdown pass to senior Devante Williams, to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 22.

Despite the big loss, ECHS head coach Lev Holly said the way his young team refused to give up shows him a bright future ahead for players like Thames.

“He did a tremendous job for us tonight,” Holly said. “We’re just a young team. We made mistakes and we have to learn from them. But Gaetyn had some good plays. Chris (Johnson) is going to have to compete with him.”

Holly said Johnson’s absence in the game was due to a knee injury that coaches wanted to give an extra week to heal before the team travels to Wilcox-Central next week for its second region game of the year.

“We just have to keep working on the fundamentals,” Holly said. “I’m proud of this group of kids and how they never gave up and I’m never going to give up on them. We just have to keep working at it every day.”

Holly and his Blue Devils (0-2, 0-1 in Class 4A, Region 1) will face Wilcox-Central next Friday night on the road. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.