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Miller routs Neal in one-sided battle

By By RANDY WINTON – Sports Writer
When Murphy sat down to write his famous (infamous?) law, he must have had something like this in mind. Otherwise, how else could one fully explain what happened Friday night at Brewton Municipal Stadium?
In the buildup to the renewing of the 59th "Battle of Murder Creek" between T.R. Miller and W.S. Neal, it took a span of about 80 seconds and three major mistakes to take all the drama out of what should have been one of the great games in this storied cross-town rivalry. After all, few could remember when so much was riding on the outcome of this heated matchup between two bitter rivals that began way back in 1946.
Neal, coming off its biggest win of the season - a brilliant, come-from-behind, 27-20 victory over previously-unbeaten and fourth-ranked Straughn - had the most on the line … win and secure the third seed in the Region 1 playoff chase or lose and stand the chance of staying home for the post-season. As the outcome played itself out so quickly, Murphy was a most unwelcome guest on the Blue Eagle sidelines. After all, everything that could go wrong, did.
In the span of 1:19 in the first period, Miller - knowing the victory meant the difference in the third and fourth spots in its own playoff chase - scored three touchdowns, jumped out to a 19-0 lead and never looked back en route to a surprisingly-easy 39-6 rout of the stunned visitors.
In doing so, the Tigers (6-3, 5-2) booked just six yards, five offensive plays and no first downs. Yet they benefitted from major miscues to score the early knockout punch.
First, it was a high snap on a punt just four minutes into the game that placed the ball at the Neal 5-yard line and provided for a quick touchdown when Michael Jones took in from the 2; 19 seconds later, a bad pitch resulted in a 32-yard loss and a fumble recovery in the end zone by Kendrick Deere for a second score; one minute after that, freshman Antonio Gomez - who had 128 all-purpose yards and an interception - returned a punt 51 yards for yet another TD.
That 19-point blitz numbed the once-boisterous Neal crowd and effectively put an end to any thoughts of a repeat miracle of the week before.
More than that, what started as such an optimistic night for Neal ended in double disaster. Region foe Clarke County's 58-20 win over Elba provided the nail in the coffin for the Eagles' playoff hopes. As it stands now, Pike County is the top seed, followed by Straughn, Miller and Clarke County.
Based on Montgomery Academy's 41-13 upset win over previously-unbeaten Lafayette Friday night in Region 2, Miller would travel to Lafayette assuming Lafayette wins next week's regular-season finale. Miller has the week off.
When it was all said and done, a swarming Tiger defense held the usually-explosive Blue Eagle offense in check. Neal (5-4, 4-3) managed a paltry 23 rushing yards and only 33 passing yards for the night as a team, although talented running back Alphonso Gross led all runners with 78 yards on 13 carries.
In the meantime, the Tiger offense ended with 171 rushing yards and 80 more through the air. It marked the first time all year Miller won a game in which it ran for less than 200 yards.
But, such an offensive output proved unnecessary. After the initial shock of the first few minutes, Miller kept the pressure on by tacking on a couple more touchdowns and going into the half with a comfortable 32-6 lead.
After senior Aubrey Dees pounced on a third Neal fumble at the Miller 36, the Tigers capitalized six plays later when quarterback Brad Lannom hooked up with tight end Trent Davidson for a brilliant 32-yard pass-and-catch to make it 25-0 with 10:18 to play before the break.
Jones added a sixth touchdown six minutes later on a 12-yard run as Miller opened it up to 32-0. Only a Nick Benjamin 3-yard TD run for Neal, following a 49-yard return of an interception by Paul Crabtree, prevented the Tigers from the shutout.
Miller would add one last score in the fourth, as Dees bounced in from a yard out with a little less than two minutes to play.