Pensacola Escambia used two non-offensive touchdowns to advance from Friday’s Region 1-6A quarterfinal
Brian Braddock bit his lip as he thanked the seniors on St. Augustine’s centennial football team for their contributions to one of the most challenging seasons for the maroon in gold in years.
There was enough opportunity and available excuses for a four-game losing streak to define the team. Instead, the St. Augustine coach was on the field at Foots Brumley Stadium on Friday night addressing the Yellow Jackets after a first-round playoff loss.
Pensacola Escambia used a pair of special teams touchdowns and dominating line play to eliminate St. Augustine 33-16 in a Region 1-6A quarterfinal.
The fifth-seeded Gators (9-2) advanced to face top seed Navarre. St. Augustine finished its 100th season 5-6.
“It was a good game. They gave us some good competition,” said St. Augustine’s Dezmond Edwards, one of 12 seniors on the team. “We could have done everything better. But they are a better team.”
Escambia running back Frank Peasent ran 25 times for 176 yards and a touchdown for the visitors.
Momentum was rolling with the Gators until St. Augustine senior linebacker Nick Barlow intercepted a pass late in the first quarter and returned it to the Escambia 18. Five plays later, the Yellow Jackets converted a 22-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-3.
St. Augustine’s offense was ineffective in the first two quarters. But, the defense did enough to help the District 4-6A champion remain within striking distance.
Sophomore cornerback Targon Ridley intercepted a deflected pass and ran 97 yards for a touchdown with two minutes remaining in the second quarter. Ridley also made a touchdown-saving tackle on the ensuing defensive possession to keep Peasant out the end zone and leave the halftime deficit at 24-9.
“The momentum changed,” Ridley said of his touchdown. “I saw how their heads hung. If we hadn’t made the small mistakes, you would have seen the Jackets in the next round of the playoffs.”
St. Augustine’s defense forced a pair of turnovers and held the Gators to 248 yards; but the Yellow Jackets’ picked an inopportune time to have their worst special teams game of the season.
A missed extra point late in the second quarter was the least of St. Augustine’s worries.
Escambia senior Patrick Sanders took the opening kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown.
Sanders’ impact was such that when asked to describe his interception, the senior quizzically asked “which one?”
While his first ended a St. Augustine drive late in the third quarter, it was his second that essentially ended St. Augustine’s season.
The Yellow Jackets trailed 26-16 with fewer than five minutes remaining when they attempted a 34-yard field goal from the left hash. The snap squirted through the hands of the holder and onto the turf. The home team picked up the ball and flung it forward, hopeful, someone would be on the other end of the prayer.
That someone was Sanders.
The Escambia senior ran untouched up the near sideline for the back-breaking touchdown with 4:26 remaining. Considering St. Augustine had scored 16 points in 43 minutes, and Escambia’s commitment to downhill running, it was only a matter of time before St. Augustine’s season was over.
"He’s just trying to make a play. He’s a young kid, a high school kid trying to make a play. He was trying to make a play and we were very fortunate,” said Escambia coach Mike Bennett.
“Everyone says St. Aug isn’t all this. St. Aug is as good as St. Aug has always been. They are well-coached. They battled their butts off. This is my fourth time over here and they do a great job. The kids played their hearts out. Both teams played as hard as they could play.”
Bennett was the coach at Pensacola High School when the Tigers played St. Augustine in the 2005, 2009 and 2010 playoffs. Friday, was the first time Escambia squared off against St. Augustine, but Bennett and Braddock had enough familiarity with each other to swap stories from those three decided by a total of 20 points.
St. Augustine’s losing season is the program’s first since 1998. But the Jackets won a district championship to extend their playoff streak to 20 seasons.
“I told the kids after the game, we went through a four-game stretch with as much adversity … as we’ve seen in the program in over 20 years,” Braddock said. “We found ourselves sitting there at 1-4. For our 12 seniors, among others, to continue to work, believe good things will happen, win a district championship, (and) continue to go to the playoffs, I’m proud of that.”