The scene Friday night as Pine Forest hosted Escambia for a District 1-6A matchup could not have created a finer atmosphere for Friday night lights.
The Eagles — who celebrated the school’s 40th anniversary, as former players from Pine Forest’s heralded football program traveled from around the country to attend the game — came out on top 21-17 after shutting out Escambia in the second half.
“We had a lot of players come in from all over the place … it started at about 12 today,” Pine Forest coach Jerry Pollard said. “We had about 10 guys from our (1988) National championship team watching highlights in my office.”
The game produced what was expected — big offensive plays for touchdowns and hard-hitting defenses.
Escambia got on the board first when the Gators dialed up a halfback pass.
Jabir Frye took the pitch and sprinted to his left before lobbing a pass to Seth Richardson for a 30-yard touchdown.
Pine Forest responded quickly in the first quarter as Jaden Gardner exploded for two TDs (79-yard reception, 60-yard rush).
“We got great effort from our players tonight, and I thought Escambia played real well,” Pollard said. “We can match Escambia’s speed. I think that was the difference tonight. They really have a good team. They are well coached, and Jabir Frye is an outstanding player.”
Frye made his mark on the game again when he cut through Pine Forest’s punt team for an 80-yard TD return early in the second quarter.
Emilio Maldonado hit a 26-yard field goal on Escambia’s next drive to give the Gators a lead heading into halftime.
But Pine Forest quarterback Xavier Saulsberry and the Eagles knew they were still in the game.
“We talked about coming out and scoring,” Saulsberry said. “We said we gotta put up points on them. We gotta hit them … they’ll stop eventually.
“It felt good to get this win. We’ve worked hard all year for this moment. Escambia beat us last year, but this year we came harder, stronger and faster.”
Saulsberry found Jacob Copeland for an 81-yard TD pass less than two minutes into the second half.
From there, it was stingy defense from both squads but it was Pine Forest that forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Karay Ellis and Martel Emerson snagged interceptions, and the Eagles defensive line caused pressure and recovered a fumble to seal the deal.
Pine Forest will seek its next district win Friday at Washington while the Gators will aim to even their district record when they face Tate on Oct. 16.