Justice prevails as Andalusia shocks Miller
By By RANDY WINTON – Sports Writer
Let the record show that through 60 minutes of roller-coaster football – some great, some not so great – four lead changes, big plays at just the right times and a second-half comeback for the ages, Justice prevailed.
Richard Justice, the 5-7, 150-pound Andalusia senior spark plug, led his team from a 31-14 second-half deficit and, bouyed by a staunch defensive effort, helped break the hearts of T.R. Miller piece by piece every time he touched the ball Friday night. In fact, the diminutive Justice couldn't have been bigger as he played judge and jury, sentencing the Tigers to a bitter 35-31 non-region loss with a career night many won't soon forget.
Rolling up 359 all-purpose yards, none were more devastating than the final 56 yards he covered on a punt return for a touchdown with 1:30 remaining. That play helped Class 4A Andalusia rise up and secure the win after a 21-0 run in the final 11 minutes brought the Bulldogs back to life from that 17-point grave.
For the night, Justice rushed for 99 yards, returned four kickoffs for 81 yards, four punts for 80 and caught five passes for 99 more yards, parlaying all that together to score four of his team's five touchdowns.
While Justice will be long remembered for his heroic play Friday night, the Tigers won't soon forget Andalusia's defensive effort, which bowed its neck in the second half and held the Tiger offense to a mere 39 total yards. In fact, in its eight offensive possessions during that span, T.R. Miller went 3-and-out and had to punt six times, running only 24 plays. The Tigers managed just six first downs the entire game.
By contrast, the Tigers – who came into the night ranked sixth among Class 3A schools – had rolled up 265 yards of offense in the first two quarters; and after Michael Jones scored a late third-quarter touchdown from 17 yards out on the first play following a Skylar Fountain fumble recovery, the Tigers seemed to have control of a 31-14 advantage.
"It's very simple," a disappointed Miller coach Jamie Riggs said, "they just whipped us in the second half. We gave them great field position and we generated nothing offensively, forcing our defense to stay on the field for what seemed like the entire night.
"We were a tired football team in the second half."
And with good reason. On six second-half possessions, Andalusia (3-2) averaged starting each drive on its own 48-yard line, wearing down a defense that had played inspired football in the first half. Along the way, the Bulldogs converted on two big fourth-down plays, the last one going for a 25-yard TD pass to Justice which proved to be the turning point.
While big plays ruled the first half for the Tigers (3-2), the Bulldogs rode the coattails of Justice in the second.
Miller had built a 24-14 lead through the first half, mainly on the strength of defensive stops. Joseph Turner booted a 30-yard field goal that culminated a seven-play drive and followed a Quentin Galloway interception, then went up 10-0 four plays later when sophomore Rodney Lane blocked a Bulldog punt and Kirk Brown scooped it up at the 26 and raced in for the touchdown.
Andalusia scored twice to go up 14-10 after a 62-yard TD pass from C.T. Eldridge to Justice, followed by an Eldridge one-yard sneak. But in the final 10 minutes of the first half, the Tigers seemed to take control.
A 48-yard pass from Brad Lannom to Antawn Gomez on third-and-10 set up a Lannom one-yard sneak, and two minutes later, Galloway broke through the left side of the Andalusia line and outran everyone for a 96-yard score, giving the Tigers a 10-point halftime advantage. By the time Jones' TD provided that 31-14 lead, the Tigers were 16 minutes away from their third straight win.
"We couldn't close," said Riggs. "We're a quarter away from the win and couldn't get a first down. If you keep putting your defense in a hole and you can't block and run and sustain a drive, it makes it very difficult to keep a team like Andalusia from taking control.
"They are too good to give them that many chances, and they proved to us the importance of making offensive plays."
As the Tiger defense, so dominant the last two weeks, wore down and field position became such a factor, Andalusia capitalized and gained momentum on each possession.
Especially after its first series following that Jones touchdown. The Bulldogs manufactured a 10-play, 80-yard drive, and finally scored on a 4th-and-17 play which resulted in that 25-yard pass to Justice. The kick made it 31-21.
Following a Tiger punt, Justice needed but one play to break through the line and race 33 yards, closing the gap to 31-28 and setting up his last-minute game-winner. As he fielded a 33-yard punt at the Andalusia 44, he side-stepped three tacklers and darted down the left sideline for the score.
Although Jones returned the ensuing kickoff to the Tiger 46, the offense could not cover the final 54 yards with no timeouts and 1:23 remaining. Lannom hit Brent Salter for 12 yards down to the Bulldog 42, but was sacked on the next play. An 8-yard strike to Gomez got the ball to the 35, but that was as close as Miller would get before time expired.
The Tigers have a chance to bounce back next week as they travel to region foe Elba, which beat Luverne 17-14 Friday night.