Homecoming victory puts Tigers in playoffs
By By RANDY WINTON Sports Writer
For all those at T.R. Miller who had hoped for such a scenario, Friday night's 48-16 Homecoming win over Hayneville Central was a mere formality.
It served its purpose, as the Tigers captured their 13th straight game and secured their familiar spot in the Class 3A playoffs as a Region 1 representative.
Even more, the win streak has come full circle. The beginning of that streak, which led to a playoff run that eventually culminated in T.R. Miller's sixth state championship, came on the heels of a close loss to mighty Pike County last year.
So now, what so many have looked forward to will finally come to pass. It could not have played out any better.
As if scripted, eight weeks into the season will find it just the way it should be: unbeaten and top-ranked T.R. Miller (5-0 in region play and 7-0 overall) will host fourth-ranked Pike County (5-0 in region play and 6-1 overall). Pike County's lose loss came to Eufaula, ranked third in Class 5A, in the season opener.
It is the first step in the process of jockeying for playoff position, while once-beaten W.S. Neal waits in the wings two weeks away. Straughn, with one loss, snared the fourth and final spot in the playoff chase in Region 1 with its win Friday.
Pike County defeated Clarke County Friday, 55-6, to set up the battle of Region 1's only unbeatens. Straughn (4-1, 6-1) defeated Elba, 41-26, and will face W.S. Neal (4-1, 6-1), which thumped Calhoun, 63-6. The next three weeks are critical for all four and will determine playoff seedings.
"It was important to get this win," senior offensive lineman Kurt Prater said. "This is what we have worked for all year. We're taking it one step at a time and step one (gaining the playoffs) is done. Now we can prepare for step two. Pike County is obviously a game we have been thinking about for a very long time, and the way things have played out, we couldn't have asked for a better scenario."
It is because of Prater and his co-horts along that heralded offensive line that T.R. Miller is where it is today. Considered all year long the strength of this team, the likes of Prater, Kevin Ard, Demetris Preyer, David Padgett, Kendrick Deere, Michael Mashburn and Josh Gilmore, along with tight end Trent Davidson, have paved the way for the aforementioned scenario to play out precisely the way it has. It is in large part to its credit that T.R. Miller has outscored its opponents by an average of 44-16 this season.
In Friday night's win at Brewton Municipal Stadium, the starting offensive line, which played barely a half, pounded Hayneville Central into submission. It led the way, as the Tigers scored on four of their first five possessions and built a 28-0 lead during their watch. The other drive ended with a fumble at the Hayneville Central one-yard line. For that starting offensive line, it was a continuance of what it has done for the better part of the season.
"Those guys have really been strong this year," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said. "Both in the running game and in pass protection, our offensive line has made it possible for us to be effective with the ball."
Friday was no exception. For the fourth straight week, Riggs called on nine different running backs and four quarterbacks to carry the load, as the game got out of reach. The starting tandem of senior running backs Skylar Fountain and Michael Jones and quarterback Brad Lannom helped the Tigers offense rack up 210 total yards in the first half, as T.R. Miller built an insurmountable four-touchdown lead.
Fountain, who played just one series in the second half, finished the night with 76 yards on nine carries and a touchdown (eight yards) from his tailback position, while Jones, the fullback, bulled his way for 42 yards on seven carries and a pair of scores (10 and three yards).
In the meantime, Lannom completed four of his seven passes for 90 yards, which included a 32-yarder to senior Kyle Rush for a touchdown, to cap the 28-point blitz.
While Hayneville Central ended the night with 334 yards (315 through the air), only 107 of that came against the starting defensive unit. That included minus 37 rushing yards in the first 24 minutes of the game.
After the T.R. Miller offense produced the big lead, the defense got into the act, as it notched a pair of touchdowns early in the third quarter.
As Hayneville Central lined up at its nine-yard line to punt with 8:33 to go in the third quarter, linebacker Tyler Shehan posted his third block and Damien Jackson fell on the ball in the end zone for the touchdown. One play later, Jacob Salter scooped up a Lions' fumble and raced 34 yards for another score to make it 42-0.
Shehan's blocked punt was T.R. Miller's seventh of the year, while Salter's fumble recovery for a touchdown was the Tigers' third.
Hayneville Central finally got on the board, as it sandwiched a pair of long touchdown passes and two-point conversions around T.R. Miller's final score of the night (an 18-yard run by Briddell Jones). Lions' quarterback Kendall Moorer, who ended the night 13-for-34 for 334 yards, connected with Jesse Harris for both touchdowns. They included an 84-yarder and a 38-yarder in the last eight minutes of the game.
"We're happy to be 7-0 and in the playoffs," Riggs said. "We're doing some good things, but we've got a tough stretch ahead of us. We realize the importance of focus. We're looking forward to the challenge."
At. T.R. Miller
Hayneville Cen. 0 0 0 16 – 16
T.R. Miller 14 14 14 6 – 48
T.R. MILLER- M. Jones 10 yard run (Turner kick)
T.R. MILLER- Fountain 8 yard run (Turner kick)
T.R. MILLER- Rush 32 yard pass from Lannom (Turner kick)
T.R. MILLER- M. Jones 3 run (Turner kick)
T.R. MILLER- Jackson recovered blocked punt in end zone (Turner kick)
T.R. MILLER- Salter 34 yard fumble return (Turner kick)
HAYNEVILLE CENTRAL- Je. Harris 84 yard pass from Moorer (Moorer run)
T.R. MILLER- B. Jones 18 yard run (kick failed)
HAYNEVILLE CENTRAL- Je. Harris 38 pass from Moorer (Jo. Harris run)
First downs: Hayneville Central 11, T.R. Miller 14
Total yards: Hayneville Central 334 (19 rushing, 315 passing), T.R. Miller 334 (244 rushing, 90 passing)
Pass completions/interceptions: Hayneville Central 13-34-1, T.R. Miller 4-7-0
Penalties: Hayneville Central 6-28, T.R. Miller 1-5
Fumbles/lost: Hayneville Central 2-1, T.R. Miller 3-2
Punts: Hayneville Central 2-36.0 avg., T.R. Miller none