W.S. Neal finds other ways to beat Devils
Eagles get three scores from defense, special teams
By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
As this season has gone along, it has become more apparent the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles are becoming a football team that relies on the big play.
That trademark has usually been associated with the W.S. Neal offense, but it was big plays by the defense and special teams that paved the way for Friday's 35-0 win at Atmore over the Escambia County Blue Devils in a non-region game.
Defense provided two of the five Blue Eagles' touchdowns, while special teams provided another. Escambia County (1-4) was limited to only 190 yards in total offense.
"We spent much of this week focusing on defense. In their two-quarterback system, one quarterback likes to run and the other one likes to throw. We knew we had to be prepared for both," W.S. Neal coach Shane Smothers said. "Our defense really played hard and they wanted the shutout badly."
It was a night where with the exception of a couple of plays, the Blue Eagles' offense was held in check. W.S. Neal (4-1) got 127 of its 222 offensive yards on two plays.
"Our offense only got 14 points, but on this night that would have been good enough for a 14-0 victory thanks to the defense. I certainly would have taken that. We knew ahead of time their defense would make it tough for our offense to get much going," Smothers said.
One of W.S. Neal's better sustained drives did not result in any points. That occurred midway through the first quarter when the Blue Eagles drove all the way to the Escambia County 17-yard line thanks to a 12-yard run by quarterback Justin Smith, pass completions from Smith to Alphonso Gross of eight and five yards, a five-yard pass from Smith to Marcus Folmar and a seven-yard run by Gross.
That drive stalled with an illegal block penalty and a sack. In fact the Blue Eagles were pushed back 28 yards to the Blue Devils' 45-yard line by the time they had to punt.
As the game went along, it became evident the Blue Eagles would not need sustained drives to win. After a scoreless first quarter, Gross broke up the shutout with an electrifying 82-yard touchdown run with 8:40 left in the half. Gross, who had averaged 10 yards a carry for the season coming into the game, had been held to just eight yards on three attempts prior to that run. Spencer Williamson's point after kick gave W.S. Neal a 7-0 lead.
The Blue Eagles were unable to open up more than a one-possession lead until a big offensive play in the third quarter gave them some breathing room.
Most of W.S. Neal's big plays this season have come from Gross, but this time is was sophomore Jake Bailey's turn to get into the act. Bailey broke two tackles en route to a 45-yard touchdown run with 7:05 left in the period. Williamson's PAT extended the Blue Eagles' advantage to 14-0.
Defense and special teams wrapped up the W.S. Neal win in the fourth quarter. On the first play of the quarter, Gross went untouched on a 42-yard punt return for a touchdown. Williamson's third PAT gave W.S. Neal a much more comfortable 21-0 lead.
Escambia County made its best attempt to break up the shutout on the following series. Pass completions by Blue Devils' quarterback Dereke Martin of 39 yards to Harvey Knight, 15 yards to Justin Gross and 10 yards to Franklin Boykin got the ball all the way to the Blue Eagles' seven-yard line.
On the following play Martin was hit quickly and lost the ball. Senior Roc Herbert scooped up the pigskin and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown. Williamson's PAT kick made it 28-0 with 7:54 left.
Herbert hardly had time to catch his breath before he had the opportunity to race to the endzone again. Calvin Hartley, the other Escambia County quarterback, had a pass intercepted by Herbert two plays into the following possession.
Once again Herbert found nothing but green grass on his way to a 26-yard touchdown return. Williamson completed a perfect night of kicks to make it 35-0 with 6:26 left.
W.S. Neal will return home next Friday against Clarke County in a Class 3A Region 1 game.
"It's a region game, which makes it like a playoff game. Clarke County has a good team, but we're becoming a good team too. It should be a great game," Smothers said.
At Escambia County
W.S. Neal 0 7 7 21- 35
Escambia Co. 0 0 0 0 – 0
W.S. NEAL- Gross 82 yard run (Williamson kick)
W.S. NEAL- Bailey 45 yard run (Williamson kick)
W.S. NEAL- Gross 42 yard punt return (Williamson kick)
W.S. NEAL- Herbert 88 yard fumble recovery (Williamson kick)
W.S. NEAL- Herbert 26 yard interception return (Williamson kick)
First downs: Escambia County 11, W.S. Neal 9
Third down conversions: W.S. Neal 0-5, Escambia County 3-9
Fourth down conversions: W.S. Neal 0-0, Escambia County 0-2
Total yards: W.S. Neal 222 (180 rushing, 42 passing), Escambia County 190 (62 rushing, 128 passing)
Individual rushing: W.S. Neal- Gross 10-126 1TD, Bailey 2-47 1TD, Burch 1-5, Biddle 1-2, Smith 5-0, Travis 1-0; Escambia County- Simpson 12-59, Martin 15-14, Boykin 3-7, Davis 2-1, Hartley 8-(-19)
Individual passing: W.S. Neal- Smith 4-12-42; Escambia County- Martin 5-11-81, Hartley 2-4-47 2INT
Individual receiving: W.S. Neal- Gross 2-13, Crane 1-24, Folmar 1-5; Escambia County- Knight 3-55, Boykin 2-43, Gross 1-15, Sharp 1-11
Individual punting: W.S. Neal- Herbert 5-196, 39.2 avg.; Escambia County- Sands 5-176, 35.2 avg.
Penalties: W.S Neal 6-60, Escambia County 5-30