Big plays, missed chances cost Eagles region opener against Escambia County

Published 9:45 am Monday, September 10, 2007

By BY Daniel Hodge – SPORTS WRITER
The big play is always a concern against a speedy opponent such as the Escambia County Blue Devils.
It was that big play ability that carried the Blue Devils to a 20-13 win over the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles at Atmore Friday in the Class 4A Region 1 opener for both teams.
The Blue Devils (2-0 overall, 1-0 in region play) were led in its offensive attack by freshman quarterback Ricco Stallworth. Stallworth racked up 222 yards of total offense against the Blue Eagle defense, but 132 of those yards came during two plays.
Both teams struggled to get anything going early in the game, as each team was forced to punt on its opening possession. W.S. Neal (1-1 overall and 0-1 in region) began its second possession with decent field position, as it took over at its own 45-yard line. The Blue Eagle offense could not cash in on the field position, as quarterback Taylor Cash fumbled as he was being tackled and Escambia County recovered at W.S. Neal's 44-yard line.
Escambia County was also unable to take advantage of the good field position and was forced to punt.
The Blue Devils broke through on their following possession after another defensive stop. W.S. Neal punter Donald Peacock backed up the Blue Devils with a 43-yard forced that forced Escambia County to start from its own 18-yard line.
Stallworth moved his team up the field when he connected with Josh McCants for a 33-yard completion that got the ball across midfield. Back-to-back penalties forced Escambia County back into its own territory at the 47-yard line, but Stallworth dashed through the Blue Eagle defense on the following play on his way to a 53-yard touchdown run. Elliott Faircloth's PAT kick gave the Blue Devils the lead at 7-0 with 2:41 left in the opening quarter.
Escambia County followed up another defensive stop with another store that widened its lead.
The Blue Devils took over at their own 28-yard line and were forced back seven yards over the next two plays.
Stallworth did better than convert the third-and-long. He connected with Demetrious Bankston on a screen pass that resulted in a 79-yard touchdown throw. Escambia County's lead remained 13-0 when Faircloth's PAT kick sailed wide right.
A second quarter special teams miscue gave the Blue Eagles the spark they needed, as Josh McCants fumbled a punt by Peacock and Thomas Emmons recovered for the Blue Eagles at Escambia County's 25-yard line.
It took just two plays for the Blue Eagles to capitalize after the turnover, as Taylor Cash hit Louis Ray Nelson for a 25-yard touchdown throw just before halftime. Akeem Green's extra point kick brought the Blue Eagles to within 13-7.
On each of its first possessions of the second half, both teams were forced to punt.
W.S. Neal's defense came up with a big defensive stand after a short punt early in the third quarter enabled Escambia County to begin possession at the Blue Eagles' 22-yard line.
Escambia County was able to pick up only a pair of yards before it had to settle for a 37-yard field goal attempt by Faircloth was both short and wide left, which kept it a one-possession game.
While Escambia County failed to take advantage of the great field position on that possession, W.S. Neal cashed in on its location after both teams traded punts.
The Blue Eagles took over at the Escambia County 25-yard line and runs by Cash and Nelson moved the ball down to the one-yard line as the third quarter ended. W.S. Neal finished off the drive on the first play of the fourth quarter when Cash handed off to Green, who dove into the end zone for the one yard score. A failed PAT kick left the score tied at 13-13 with 11:50 remaining in the game.
Escambia County responded with its best drive of the night, as it marched 74-yards on eight plays and consumed more than three minutes. Stallworth capped off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run and Faircloth's PAT kick moved the score to 20-13 with 8:45 left in the fourth quarter.
W.S. Neal had three more possession, but came away empty each time.
The Blue Eagles open the home portion of their schedule this coming Friday when they host Southside-Selma at 7 p.m. in a Region 1 clash. Southside remained winless on the young campaign Friday when it fell at home to T.R. Miller 28-6.

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