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Blue Eagles will try to snap 7-game losing streak against their arch rival

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Even though Shane Smothers has never coached against the T.R. Miller Tigers, the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles coach has plenty of respect for his school's Murder Creek rival.
"We beat a very good team in Straughn. Now we have to beat a great team in T.R. Miller," Smothers said after his team's 21-13 victory Friday.
Unlike most people in the neighboring communities, Smothers does have a different viewpoint of the game.
"I'm not caught up in this rivalry thing. It's just another game to me. It just happens to be against a team that is located four miles away," Smothers said.
If the Blue Eagles (5-1 in region play and 7-1 overall) can find a way to beat their arch rival, their reward will be a number two seed in Region 1 and a home game in the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs.
One can hardly blame W.S. Neal for wanting a home game. The Blue Eagles, who play just four home games this season, have spent four of the last five weeks on the road. Then again, life on the road has been good to W.S. Neal this season where the Blue Eagles are a perfect 5-0.
"We've proven we can win on the road, but obviously it's an advantage not having to travel in the postseason and getting to play in front of your own fans," Smothers said.
The Blue Eagles have to find a way to overcome present and past history. They face a T.R. Miller squad that has spent all season atop the Class 3A state rankings prior to the Tigers' 27-21 loss to Pike County Friday. W.S. Neal has not beaten T.R. Miller since 1996 and has dropped 18 of the last 19 meetings in the series.
"I don't think our players are getting caught up with what the school has done against T.R. Miller last year or in recent years. They know this is a different year with a different system," Smothers said.
T.R. Miller has averaged 42.9 points a game this season. Smothers said the Tigers' success on offense begins up front.
"They've got an outstanding offensive line. Probably a lot of that is their experience," Smothers said.
Smothers said another key for T.R. Miller's success has been its offensive balance.
"They can beat you with both the run and pass. (Quarterback) Brad Lannom is the leader of their offense. He has probably started more than 30 games in his high school career. With that kind of experience, he should be the leader. Skylar Fountain is their go-to running back, while Michael Jones is an all-pupose running back. They've got several receivers they can turn to, including the tight end, Trent Davidson. He is great player," Smothers said.
That presents a good matchup against a W.S. Neal defense that has forced 18 turnovers the last five weeks. Six of those turnovers have been returned for touchdowns, four of which have come from Roc Herbert.
"Our defense has played well all season and we'll need another great effort from those players Friday," Smothers said.
W.S. Neal was able to overcome eight penalties and three turnovers in Friday's win at Straughn. Smothers said his team will not be able to win with those numbers against T.R. Miller.
"Not only did we have the three turnovers and eight penalties, but we won with just one completed pass. If somebody had told me we would have those numbers going into the game, I wouln't have predicted a win," Smothers said.
Smothers said a key to the game may be which teams plays the best first half.
"We're both similar in that we each tend to get off to slow starts in the first half. Then we'll both come out and play well in the second half," Smothers said.