Tigers defeat MA for trip to Super Six
By By SCOTT COOPER – Sports Writer
With Friday night's heart-stopping 14-12 win over the Montgomery Academy Eagles, the T.R. Miller Tigers gained the opportunity to prove the Alabama state football writers were correct in picking them as the top-ranked team in the Class 3A preseason poll.
Miller traveled to Montgomery to meet the eighth-ranked Eagles (11-2) in a semifinal playoff game after disposing of seventh-ranked Dadeville, third-ranked Tarrant and tenth-ranked Springville in the first three playoff rounds. The Tigers, who entered postseason play unranked after suffering three losses during the regular season, improved to 10-3 overall and continued their march through the state's top 10 teams with the victory.
However, the victory was anything but easy. Montgomery Academy entered the game with a reputation of having a tough, take-no-prisoners defensive unit and upheld that reputation by forcing the Tigers to earn every yard they gained. Miller, on the other hand, came prepared to match the Eagles' physical play and forced the hosts to resort to their passing game after allowing only a single yard rushing for the entire contest.
Miller head coach Jamie Riggs paid tribute to Montgomery Academy after the contest and said he expected the type game that the two teams played.
Antonio Gomez returned the opening kickoff to the Miller 43-yard line to place the Tigers in good field position to begin their opening offensive series. But, after allowing one first down, the Eagle defense stiffened and forced the Tigers to punt.
After receiving the Miller punt on their own 31-yard line, the Eagles put together a 9-play drive that gave them the early lead.
The big play of the drive was a third down pass completion on a crossing route that was good for a 42-yard gain to the Miller 13-yard line. From there, the Tigers' defense held their ground and forced a field goal attempt after big stops by Dominic Johnson and Michael Jones on consecutive plays and a third down pass incompletion. The 27-yard field goal attempt was good to give Montgomery Academy a 3-0 lead with 5:13 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Tigers responded by receiving the ensuing kickoff and mounting a 12-play, 61-yard scoring march that would give them a lead that they would maintain to the end.
A Jones' run off left tackle for three yards was followed by a six-yard gain by Skylar Fountain to the Miller 48-yard line. Brad Lannom's quarterback sneak on the next snap secured the first down at midfield. Lannom then hit Brent Salter along the left sideline for a 16-yard pass completion to the Eagle 34-yard line. From there, the Tigers kept the ball on the ground, as Fountain, Jones and Antawn Gomez took turns carrying the ball toward paydirt. After a seven-yard Gomez run around right end moved the football down to the 1-yard line, a Lannom quarterback sneak culminated the drive. Joseph Turner's PAT was perfect for a 7-3 Miller lead with 11:34 left in the second quarter.
The opposing defenses dominated the action over the next several minutes, but Montgomery Academy got on the scoreboard with another drive before halftime.
Beginning from their 20-yard line after receiving a Miller punt and passing on almost every down due to the Tiger's unyielding run defense, the Eagles moved the ball on a 13-play drive to Miller's 29-yard line. Facing a fourth down and 15, the MA kicker nailed a 46-yard field goal to pull the Eagles to within one, 7-6, at the half.
In the third quarter, both teams' defensive units regained control of the game. Although the Tigers had one drive that progressed down to the Montgomery Academy 26-yard line, the Eagle defense held on fourth down to end the threat. Meanwhile, the Miller defense allowed the Eagles to penetrate into Tiger territory on a couple of occasions, but key stops in critical situations kept the lead at 7-6 heading to the fourth quarter.
Midway through the final quarter, the Tigers moved the football on a 9-play, 53-yard scoring jaunt that appeared to give them the insurance needed to ice the game.
A Jones run that netted five yards was followed by a six-yard Gomez gain on a toss sweep. On the next play from scrimmage, Gomez took the handoff on a counter draw before cutting it to the left sideline for a 31-yard gain to the Eagle 11-yard line. Six plays later, Jones powered his way into the end zone from the 1-yard line. Turner split the uprights on the PAT to give the Tigers a 14-6 lead with 4:07 remaining in the game.
After receiving the kickoff, Montgomery Academy embarked on a final drive that made the outcome too close for comfort.
Passing on every down, the Eagles steadily moved the ball from their 39-yard line to Miller's 35-yard line. But, following an Aubrey Dees sack for a four-yard loss and a second down pass incompletion, MA faced a third down and 14 from the Tiger 39-yard line. The next play, an Eagle 35-yard pass completion, put the Eagles in scoring position at the Miller 4-yard line. With the following snap, the Eagles connected on a scoring pass that reduced the Miller lead to 14-12.
With only 1:14 remaining, there was no doubt a two-point conversion was needed to send the game into overtime. The MA quarterback dropped back to pass and spotted a receiver over the middle and across the goal line. But, Quentin Galloway read the play and darted in front of the Eagle receiver for the interception that sealed the win and placed the Tigers in the 3A title game.
Miller will play Colbert County for the Class 3A championship Saturday at Legion Field in Birmingham. Game time is scheduled for 11 a.m.