Troy heartache

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Autauga Academy’s Derrick Dunningan (5) gets tackled by a host of Escambia Academy players. |                                                         Andrew Garner/Atmore Advance

Autauga Academy’s Derrick Dunningan (5) gets tackled by a host of Escambia Academy players. | Andrew Garner/Atmore Advance

Escambia Academy falls in AISA Class 2A title game

TROY — A key interception that led to a much-needed touchdown for Escambia Academy could’ve been a momentum swinger, but Autauga Academy held its ground and pulled away to a 28-21 victory over the Cougars Friday for the 2016 AISA Class 2A state championship on Larry Blakeney Field at Troy University.

Trailing 21-7 in the third quarter, EA’s Fred Flavors caught an interception at the 8:41 mark and ran it back to Autauga’s 30-yard line for a chance to cut the lead to seven.

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Cougars quarterback Kainoa Gumapac snuck the ball in from 3 yards less than a minute later to make it a 21-14 game.

Soon after, Gumapac managed to have a nice punt return to get within scoring distance and the tie. However, the Cougars didn’t convert in the red zone.

“We played a great game as far as getting after it and playing hard, but we just didn’t execute when we had our opportunities,” EA head football coach Hugh Fountain said. “You get in the red zone and don’t execute, that’s not good for us.”

Top-ranked AA took advantage and put together a long drive that was eclipsed with a 57-yard touchdown pass from Tripp Carr to Tanner Payton with 18 seconds left in the third.

AA held a 28-14 lead going into the fourth quarter.

EA answered with a scoring drive of its own in the fourth quarter when Gumapac connected with Jabe Dawe on an 8-yarder with 7:11 to go. With the extra point try, the Cougars trailed 28-21.

With only one timeout left late in the fourth, the Cougars held the Generals after a hook-and-ladder try with 2:57 left in the game.

The Generals punted to the Cougars’ 19 with 2:27 to go.

EA used its final timeout to draw up one last play with 1:35 left on the clock, but the resulting play — a long pass from Gumapac to Flavors — fell out of bounds, forcing a turnover on downs to AA.

Fountain said the Generals had a good defense, and it was hard to prepare for their lethal offense.

“They’ve got an outstanding football team all the way around,” he said. “Give them credit, they’re undefeated and beat us twice. I told the boys before the game, this is the way I look at football. ‘You beat somebody twice in a season, you deserve the state championship.’

“We were in a better position losing (earlier this season) and thought we could beat them,” he said. “I feel like when a team beats you twice, then they’re the best team.”

Things got off on the wrong foot for EA in the first quarter as Autauga’s Kendrick Rogers ran back a kick off 85 yards for a touchdown within the first 17 seconds of the game.

The Cougars answered in a quick manner when Patrick McGhee had a 86-yard touchdown run just 26 seconds later. The game was tied 7-7 until the second quarter.

AA’s Derrick Dunnigan, who powered the Generals throughout the contest, found a 4-yard gap in the red zone to help his team take a 14-7 lead with 4:45 left in the first half.

Before momentum seemed to go EA’s way in the second half, the Cougars gave up two fumbles at the start of the third.

“We started off the second half terrible,” Fountain said. “We told them we couldn’t  give them other possessions. Then, we fumble on first down on offense. I think that gave them good field position. We finally regained it, but we just really were battling up hill all night.”

For the game, AA outgained EA 371-159 yards in offense.

McGhee led EA with 84 yards on three carries and one touchdown. Gary Campbell punted four times for 120 yards — 30-yard average — and had a long of 37 yards.

Dunnigan led AA with 147 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns. Carr went 9-for-15 for 242 yards and a touchdown in the air.

Payton had four receptions for 123 yards and a score. Rogers chipped in with 75 yards on two receptions.

EA finished its season 8-5.

“The guys really have persevered throughout the season,” Fountain said. “Our seniors were state champions when they were sophomores and are runners up now. That’s a lot to accomplish in their career.”