Pike peaks as Miller comeback falls short
By By RANDY WINTON – Sports Writer
One of football's biggest lessons can prove to be one of its greatest disappointments. Case in point: a team can play its best game of the year and still lose.
Such was the case Friday night at Pike County, as T.R. Miller's Tigers fought valiantly, only to lose 19-13 to its Region 1 foe - the second-ranked football team in Class 3A, now unscathed after eight games. As all who love the red and black found out, the Bulldogs were everything they were advertised to be.
Now staring at a 4-2 Region 1 record (5-3 overall), the Tigers face another big challenge when they square off with rival W.S. Neal next week. The importance of that game elevated even higher than usual after Neal upset previously undefeated Straughn Friday night.
Short on numbers (only 20 dressed for the game) but long on big-play talent, the Bulldogs' three scoring plays averaged 33 yards, all passes from star Chris Nickson, one of the state's most exciting, if not elusive, quarterbacks. Nickson, a junior, completed 9-of-23 passes for 172 yards and all three TDs (9, 32 and 25 yards) and added 71 yards on 19 carries. As a team, the Bulldogs finished with 305 total yards, nearly 100 below its total average for the year.
Yet, the Tigers continued to play with courage as they stormed back into the game during the second half. The 19 points Pike County scored were 21 below its season average and, if not for an ill-timed interception late in the game, Miller had a chance to complete a second-half comeback from a 19-0 deficit.
Statistically, Miller rushed for 230 yards, marking the first time this year the Tigers lost when rushing for 200-plus yards, and threw for 86 more for a total of 316. Both teams had 16 first downs. While Nickson proved the difference, Miller senior Quentin Galloway had the Bulldogs on their heels much of the evening.
Galloway rushed for 122 yards on seven tries, including a 49-yard TD run for Miller's first score, then set up his team's second tally with a 12-yard run on third-and-five from the Bulldog 25, before Michael Jones cashed in from 10 yards out.
Having roared back from that three-touchdown grave to move within 19-13 with a little less than five minutes to play, Miller had seemingly found its groove on both sides of the ball. It was just a matter of its defense, which had played inspiring football all night, to make one more stop to allow the offense the opportunity to complete the heroic comeback.
But in the same fashion that has made Pike County the talk of Class 3A this season, Nickson led his offense on an 11-play drive that burned the clock. While the Bulldogs didn't score, they succeeded in eating enough of the clock and pinned the Tigers inside their own 20 to face 80 yards and only 1:14 in which to maneuver all that real estate.
They got nearly halfway there on a 40-yard pass from Brad Lannom to Galloway on a 4th-and 16 play, but after Lannom was dropped for a five-yard loss on the next play, the clock ran out.
The first of the three led to Pike County's bread-and-butter - converting a turnover into points. Nearly half of their points this year have come at the expense of the opponent's mistakes. After its first three plays gained a single yard, Pike County punted it away, only to have the kick glance off the Miller returner and the ball was recovered at the Tiger 39. Six plays later, following a 24-yard run by Nickson on fourth-and-six that took the ball to the 11, Nickson found Nick Walker on a nine-yard pass for the opening score. The PAT made it 7-0.
With just under five minutes to go in the half, the Bulldogs started at their own 14 and, thanks to another conversion of a third-and-long situation, Nickson culminated an eight-play, 86-yard drive with a 20-yard pass to Walker down to the Tiger 32, then finished the drive with another pass to Walker to cover that final distance for the score. The PAT was blocked, but the Bulldogs led 13-0 at the break.
Pike County scored what proved to be the game-winner on its first drive of the second half when Nickson accounted for each of the 63 yards in the seven-play drive, either running or passing. He rushed for 16 yards and completed two passes for 47. The second pass of 25 yards went for a TD to Chris Bell.
With 21 minutes remaining in the game, Miller poised itself for the comeback, scoring quickly after Pike's final touchdown. Galloway booked his 49-yard jaunt in the third, then Jones' 10-yarder came at the 4:50 mark of the fourth. But, again, Nickson did what he had to do to keep the Tigers at arm's length, stopping Miller's comeback bid short.