Tigers look to bounce back from first setback of season
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Their 13-game winning streak is over. Their number one ranking in the state for Class 3A is gone. They have no chance to win to Region 1 championship.
Despite last Friday's 27-21 loss to Pike County, the T.R. Miller Tigers still have plenty at stake when they head across Murder Creek into East Brewton Friday to play the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
In addition to bragging rights, the biggest item at state is a first-round playoff game at home. The winner finishes second in Region 1 and will be at home in the opening round, while the loser will be the third seed and will travel in the first round. Both teams have identical records of 5-1 in region play and 7-1 overall.
"It would be nice to play at home in the playoffs, but that part of it is no big deal to me. You're going to have to play somebody real good somewhere," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said.
The Tigers have come out on top seven straight times and 18 of the last 19 against their arch rival. Despite the recent dominance in the series, Riggs said none of that matters when the two teams line up.
"I don't think what has happened in the past is an advantage for us. Our players know and recognize the fact it is a different year and W.S. Neal has a good club," Riggs said.
While W.S. Neal coach Shane Smothers is approaching the contest like it is just another game, Riggs has an opposite viewpoint."
"It's the biggest game of the season. The Pike County game last week was huge, but this one is bigger," Riggs said. "We want to beat them because it's W.S. Neal, not because the winner gets a home game in the playoffs."
Like all teams, T.R. Miller's biggest obstacle will be finding a way to slow down W.S. Neal running back Alphonso Gross.
"Gross is a very special running back. His great speed makes him a threat to go the distance on any given play. Straughn actually did a pretty good job of stopping him, but Gross had three long runs that made the difference in the game. He is so elusive," Riggs said. "One thing that makes it hard to prepare for Gross is we can't simulate his kind of speed and moves in practice."
While Gross may be the most recognizable name on the W.S. Neal roster, the T.R. Miller coach said the Blue Eagles are more than just Gross.
"They've got some other good backs, especially Jake Bailey. He just hasn't had the number of carries Gross has had. (Marcus) Folmar and (Mario) Daniel are both good receivers," Riggs said. "They are also a good defensive team. Their speed has created a lot of turnovers."
Riggs said it is possible for a team to get too sky high for emotional battles such as this.
"Sometimes players put so much emotion into a game that they lose focus and make mistakes they wouldn't normally make. We have a lot of players who have played in this game before. Because of that experience, I don't think that will happen to us," Riggs said.