Character Defined: Miller Whips Straughn
By By RANDY WINTON
If there is one thing Jamie Riggs has come to know about his T.R. Miller football team this early in the year it is evident he can certainly count on the fact his Tigers have character.
Despite the talent and the tradition, none of it means a whole lot if character hasn't found its place. Know this … if two games are an indication, "character" certainly has a home at Brewton Municipal Stadium.
It was shown in its season opening win two Fridays ago against Escambia County High School, but it really showed its colors this past Friday. The top-ranked Tigers held No.10 Straughn – one of the most feared offensive teams in Region I – in check en route to a convincing 35-14 win, thoroughly exorcising the ghosts of last year's heart-breaking 27-26 loss at Straughn.
What's more, it wasn't even as close as the final score indicates.
The Tigers dominated both sides of the ball, and, take away two big plays by Straughn and Miller losing four fumbles – two inside their foe's 10-yard line – it could have been real ugly.
How ugly? Consider these facts: a balanced Miller offense rushed for 203 yards, while senior quarterback Brad Lannom enjoyed his best night ever throwing the ball. The soft-spoken Lannom lit up the visiting Tiger defense for a career-best 205 yards on 12-of-18 passing and three touchdowns. Skylar Fountain led the rushing attack with 97 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns, while Michael Jones proved his mettle with 64 yards on 12 carries, and caught four passes for 77 yards and a pair of TDs despite having a rib cage injury late in the first half.
On the defensive side of the ball, where most of the pressure has been shouldered the first two weeks, guys like Demetris Preyer, Justin Marshall, Joseph Turner and Samaritan Cunningham helped Miller shut down Straughn's offense in the second half. Together, they took a 21-14 first-half lead and took all hope away with two TDs in the final 24 minutes to put the game away.
Character came into play early, as the Tigers fumbled away a chance to strike first when their opening drive ended inside the 10-yard line after 10 plays had covered 61 yards. Straughn recovered the loose ball and Michael Hobbs, who battered Miller's defense a year ago for 137 yards and three touchdowns, took a screen pass and raced 91 yards for the game's first TD. Where other teams might have folded, Miller rolled up its sleeves and went to work.
With the ensuing kickoff, the Tigers put together a second sustained drive and scored after seven plays covered 65 yards, the final 21 coming when sophomore Mikel Riggs made his first career catch a memorable one, hauling in a Lannom pass for a touchdown. That spark helped lift the Tigers, and they went on to outscore Straughn 28-7 the rest of the way.
"They had the big play to open, but we came right back and scored," said Riggs, who watched his team bounce back in like manner the week before. "I like that about our team. We don't panic when there's a little adversity, and that's the sign of a good football team."
Thanks to the combination of a methodical offense and a defense on a mission, Miller held the ball for much of the first half. Their first four drives of the game averaged 10 plays and covered 60, 65, 51, and 59 yards. The Tigers scored on all but that first drive to go up 21-14. Lannom hit Jones on a 21-yard pass and Fountain added a bruising 19-yard TD run. The Tigers had a chance to score another TD late in the second quarter, but fumbled at the Straughn 1 after blocking a punt.
A first-half passing attack that accounted for 166 yards helped Straughn stay in the game. Down 14-7, the visiting Tigers manufactured a 9-play, 76-yard drive, with 75 of those yards coming through the air. Al Freeney covered the final yard for the touchdown to make it 14-all. But that stingy defense held Straughn quarterback Justin Bracewell, who completed his first five passes for 166 yards, to just 4-of-19 in the second half for a harmless 30 yards.
In the meantime, Jones hauled in a 20-yard third-quarter pass for a touchdown and Fountain put the final nail in the coffin with a 10-yard scoring run in the fourth.
Take away both of their first-half fumbles and the Tigers might have gone into intermission with a 28-7 lead. As it happened, though, Miller was able to overcome those early-season miscues with resolve.