They Meet Again

Published 11:04 pm Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pike Liberal Arts head coach Wayne Grant (top) and Escambia Academy head coach Hugh Fountain will meet again on Friday.

Legendary coaches face each other in first season with new schools

Five years ago, Wayne Grant and Hugh Fountain knew they would play one another. They didn’t know, however, it would be in an Alabama Independent School Association region contest.

Grant was the head coach at Pike County High School for 19 years over two separate stints. Fountain led Charles Henderson for 16 seasons. Now, Grant will load his Pike Liberal Arts squad and travel to Atmore to face Fountain and Escambia Academy.

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Both coaches are in their first season with their respective schools after Fountain left Charles Henderson in January and Grant was named head coach at Pike in June.

“I thought that was over with,” Grant said with a chuckle about facing Fountain again. “One thing is for certain, it’s a totally different environment.”

Different indeed.

When the pair of legendary coaches, who have combined for 379 victories, faced off before, it was in the annual Pike County Classic preseason game. This time a win or loss could mean the difference in a playoff berth.

Pike Liberal Arts is 1-4 and looking to break into the playoff picture. Escambia Academy is 2-3 and hoping to lock up a spot in the postseason in the school’s first season as a member of Class AAA.

“I guess I never thought about it,” Fountain said of playing Grant in the AISA. “One thing is for sure, he’s done a great job everywhere he has been.”

Back story aside, Fountain knows the importance of Friday night’s game.

“This game means a lot to both of our seasons,” Fountain said. “We’ve been where they haven’t been though. We were granted one of the toughest schedules in the AISA. So, it means a lot for us to go out and get a win.”

Five of Escambia’s first six games came against region opponents, leaving them little room for error early in the season. A win over Pike would make the Cougars 2-3 in region play and keep the team’s playoff hopes alive while all but squashing Pike Liberal Arts’ postseason hopes.

“We’re going down there to give them a game,” Grant said. “Before, we played against each other for bragging rights of the county. Now, whoever wins this one fares better in region play.”

The Patriots are looking to slow down Escambia’s spread rushing attack. Pike’s defense has allowed an average 29.8 points per games, while the Cougars are scoring an average of 23 points per contest including a combined 81 in their last two games, both victories.

The challenge for Pike will be slowing down Escambia’s ground game.

“They run the ball very well,” Grant said. “They complete most of their pass routes. The key for us is to wrap up and make the tackle. That has hurt us all year. If we can do that, we have a chance.”

Friday’s game isn’t the first between the schools. Escambia holds a 3-0 all-time advantage over the Patriots, though the wins came in the infancy stages of AISA football. The schools haven’t met since 1981.

Kickoff in Atmore is set for 7 p.m.