Escambia High Gators: Escambia High Gators: 7 - Pine Forest Eagles: 10

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Game Played 11/6/2009 7:30PM  

Pine Forest ekes out win over Escambia
Chuck Corder • News Journal correspondent • November 7, 2009
The din reverberating from Pine Forest's postgame huddle rang loud and clear.
The throaty chant spoke volumes. All one needed to know about the Eagles' too-close-for-comfort 10-7 victory against Escambia on Friday was summed up here:

"It's not how you start. It's how you finish."

Over and over Pine Forest players sang that refrain. You better believe they meant each word after Tavarris Wiggins' 4-yard touchdown reception from A.J. Clark with 37 seconds left helped the Eagles (8-2, 5-0) keep their unblemished District 1-4A record in tact despite only leading for a total of 2 minutes, 51 seconds Friday.

An offense that sputtered all night against a stingy Gators defense, especially in the red zone, drove 55 yards in less than two minutes with a balanced look — seven passes and six rushes.

"I told my team, 'I'm behind y'all, I got y'all,' " Wiggins said of his only offensive touch Friday.

He was.

"The time was now," he added. "I held strong."

He did. So did teammate Markis Williams.

The junior linebacker forced and recovered a fumble out of the hands of Escambia quarterback Joey Cannon with 2:19 remaining to set up the game-winning drive. The ball was jarred loose just as Cannon, who threw for a season-best 137 yards, neared the first down at the Pine Forest 44.

"I just reacted," Williams said. "I saw (Cannon) running. I hit him hard and (the ball) popped right into my hands. I was like, 'Thank God.' "

Thirteen plays later, the Eagles were still clinging to their religion as they reached the Gators' 4.

Word spread through the huddle to go on sound on the defining play. Pine Forest hurried to the line, quick-snapped a gassed Escambia defense and Clark buried a dart in Wiggins' belly off a quick slant.

"Look up. Dive for it. Whatever you gotta do, catch the ball," Wiggins said. "We came out real flat. We understand when we got down (close to the end zone), we had to fight hard."

Escambia (3-6, 0-5) left the Eagles no other option.

Thanks to a 17-yard score from fullback Willie Williams, the Gators clung to a 7-3 lead from the 9:40 mark of the second quarter on. Pine Forest had three of its four, first-half possessions start on Escambia's side of the 50 only to come away with no points each time.

"To be honest, we worked on Pine Forest for two weeks," Gators coach Jimmy Nichols said. "It doesn't do much for our program to beat Tate, but it helps it to beat Pine Forest. I've been telling people we're a better team than our record shows."

The performance didn't surprise one particular Eagle.

"That's how I thought their defense would play all year long," Pine Forest coach Jerry Pollard said. "We had our hands full. I'm proud of our guys playing at the end. At that time of the game, all you can do is keep plugging away."

After all, it's how you finish.

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