Autauga Academy, Escambia Academy meet again
By Tim Gayle
Neither Autauga Academy coach Bobby Carr nor Escambia Academy coach Hugh Fountain can admit to being surprised at the thought of both teams being 8-0 heading into Friday night’s showdown at Autauga.
Both are the cream of the crop when it comes to Alabama Independent School Association teams. Autauga was forced to schedule a pair of Florida teams just to fill out a 10-game schedule. Escambia played a Mississippi team and two Florida teams and still had two open dates over the past three weeks because no AA or AAA teams wanted to play the Cougars.
“Last year, we had two great games with them,” he said. “I think the difference between their team last year and this year is they’ve got a lot of kids back. They have more depth, not as many guys playing both ways. A lot of people may look at me like I’m crazy, but they may have more team speed than we do.”
The game features an interesting contrast of speed and power football. Escambia has the edge on speed, but the Cougars frequently rely on a power rushing attack to move the football. Autauga has the edge on size, but the Generals often try to spread the ball and get to the corners.
“Obviously, everybody changes a little from year to year but to me it’s the same football team,” Fountain said. “They’ve replaced guys like (Derrick) Dunigan with other good backs. The back they have (Jordan Epkins) is just as good as Dunigan. When you look up and you have Tripp (Carr) back there at quarterback and (receiver Kendrick) Rogers playing, they’re so explosive offensively that they just make every weapon around them good.
“I think I counted on their roster 16 guys who weigh over 280 pounds, so their size is definitely a factor in whatever you do because we definitely don’t have 16 that weigh that much. But I like I told my kids on Monday, they’ve got outstanding skill people, it’s not like they’re lacking in the skill person department. Plus they’ve got the numbers. We do have a little more depth than we had last year, but I see them, they’re much the same as they were last year. And their kicking game is really good this year.”
Carr has completed 91 of 128 passes for 1,317 yards and 15 touchdowns with just four interceptions, while Epkins has rushed for 866 yards and 11 touchdowns on 101 carries and Rogers has caught 32 passes for 546 yards and five touchdowns. Cosmin Diaconu, meanwhile, has kicked 27 extra points (out of 32) and two field goals.
Fountain will counter with defensive back and return specialist Fred Flavors, who has three touchdowns on returns and 362 yards on 13 receptions; running backs Louie Turner (687 yards) and Patrick McGhee (433); quarterback Jabe Dawe, who is 40 of 75 for 1,001 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions; and talented receiver Neikel Robinson, who has 413 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries.
Fountain complains about his kicking game, which struggled early, but Jace Daniels emerged to convert 21 of 24 extra-point attempts.
But for all the explosive playmakers on both sides, the game will still come down to an old-fashioned battle of defenses that will be won in the trenches.
“That’s what we’ve been challenging our kids with, that you win championships with defense and the running game,” Carr said. “Our offensive line is as good as any I’ve ever coached in my 22 years of coaching. Like we’ve told them all year, we’re going to rely on them. They don’t get a lot of credit but we wouldn’t be who we are without those guys up front.
“We match up with them pretty well up front, so hopefully we’ll control the ball with our running game and hit them with some play-action passes. But it’s going to be one that everybody wants to see.”
Last year, a Flavors’ kickoff return for a touchdown tied the game before Autauga won late 41-34. Four weeks later, the two teams met again in Troy and Autauga prevailed again, 28-21.
Few doubt Friday’s game is a prelude to another matchup for the AA state title four weeks later in Troy, but both coaches said they can’t afford to look ahead.
“You just take what’s in front of you now,” Fountain said, “because there are no assurances. We’re just playing Friday night for the region championship, home-field is on the line and we’re playing the defending state champs.”
“We’re going to take care of business this week and whatever happens happens,” Carr said. “If we meet them down the road, we’ll probably make a few adjustments – like we did and they did last year. This game is huge. The winner hosts throughout the playoffs.”