Tigers claim bragging rights in a classic
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
They took advantage of some of the opportunities that came their way in the first half, but the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles did not take advantage of all of them.
That left the door open for a T.R. Miller rally and the Tigers did just that with a stunning 20-14 victory in front of a packed house at the W.S. Neal Stadium Friday.
The win marked the eighth straight and 19th out of the last 20 games for the Tigers against their Murder Creek rival. W.S. Neal has not beaten T.R. Miller since 1996.
T.R. Miller's victory clinched the number two seed in Class 3A Region 1 and a first-round home playoff game. The Tigers will play the third place team from Region 4. That foe will be Midfield if Midfield won at Northside Friday. No score from that game was available.
Meanwhile the loss gave W.S. Neal the third seed and a road date at Aliceville for the opening round of the playoffs.
Michael Jones' three-yard touchdown run with 45 seconds left capped off a 14-point second half comeback for T.R. Miller (6-1 in region and 8-1 overall).
"It was just a great game by both teams. It was your typical Neal-Miller game," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said.
It was definitely a game of two halves. W.S. Neal (5-2 in region and 7-2 overall) outgained the Tigers 153-74 in the first half. T.R. Miller hurt its cause even more with three lost fumbles. The Tigers lost four fumbles for the game.
In the second half, the T.R. Miller defense nearly pitched a shutout across the board. W.S. Neal was held to no points, no first downs and just 10 yards of offense. The Tigers, who racked up 182 yards of offense in the second half, also had nearly a five-minute edge in time of possession.
There is probably little question where the complexion of the game changed.
W.S. Neal had just taken a 14-0 lead on Alphonso Gross' second touchdown in a 23-second span. Gross scored his first touchdown with a three-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. A fumble recovery by Bobby Freeman set up Gross' other score, a 16-yard run.
On the ensuing kickoff, W.S. Neal's Chason Godbolt recovered a fumble by Skylar Fountain at the T.R Miller nine-yard line.
Before the Blue Eagles ran a play after the turnover, they were whistled for illegal procedure and delay of game.
Another illegal procedure penalty on W.S. Neal wiped out an 18-yard touchdown pass from Justin Smith to Mario Daniel. That moved the ball all the way back to the 23-yard line where Smith was intercepted by Damien Jackson in the endzone on the following play.
"That was the biggest sequence of the game. I told our players the first thing we had to do was get our composure back. Whatever could go wrong, pretty much did for us in that first half. Yet we were still only down 14-0 at halftime. It could have been a lot worse," Riggs said.
Not only did W.S. Neal miss out on that scoring chance, it had another drive stopped on downs at the T.R. Miller 16-yard line later in the half.
"We had a chance to be up 28-0 at halftime. Instead it was only 14-0. You can't leave the door open for a team like T.R. Miller," W.S. Neal coach Shane Smothers said.
Perhaps another sign of the changing momentum came on T.R. Miller's first offensive play in the second half. The Tigers had another fumble, this time in their backfield. Unlike the three fumbles T.R. Miller lost in the first half, this time the Tigers' Tim Atcher fell on it to keep the ball in T.R. Miller's possession.
That play eventually allowed T.R. Miller to get on the board when Brad Lannom hit Antonio Gomez on a 37-yard touchdown strike. Joseph Turner's point after kick sliced the Blue Eagles' lead in half to 14-7 with 9:06 left in the third quarter.
W.S. Neal dodged a bullet later in the third quarter when Roc Herbert recovered a T.R. Miller fumble at the Blue Eagles' 22-yard line.
That was not the case two series later when the Tigers strung together a 10-play, 54 yard march that consumed more than five minutes off the clock. T.R. Miller posted all 54 of those yards on the ground, the last nine of which came from Jones on a run to the right.
A personal foul by W.S. Neal on the scoring play changed Riggs' conversion strategy. Instead of going for the kick and a tie, he sent his offense back on the field.
W.S. Neal was able to preserve its 14-13 lead when it stopped Antonio Gomez just short of the goal line with 7:47 to go.
A quick defensive stop gave the ball right back to the Tigers just over two minutes later.
T.R. Miller's winning drive was much like the scoring possession that preceded it. It went eight plays for 47 yards, all of which came on the ground. It had also consumed more than four minutes off the clock when Jones scored on the three-yard run with 45 seconds left. Turner's PAT kick made it 20-14.
While the Tigers did their part in the second half comeback, injuries may have taken its toll on W.S. Neal. Gross, Herbert and Kendreal Williams all missed significant time to injuries. Gross returned late in the game from a leg injury, but he was limited to just two carries for no yards in the second half after he posted 14 carries for 98 yards in the first half.
"That's three starters we were missing. The players we inserted for them gave it everything they had," Smothers said. "Our players as a whole gave it everything they had. At the same time I tip my cap to T.R. Miller."
Both teams conclude the regular season with non-region games next Friday. T.R. Miller will journey to Jay (Fla.), while W.S. Neal visits Geneva.
At W.S. Neal
T.R. Miller 0 0 7 13 – 20
W.S. Neal 0 14 0 0 – 14
W.S. NEAL- Gross 3 yard run (Williamson kick)
W.S. NEAL- Gross 16 yard run (Williamson kick)
T.R. MILLER- A. Gomez 37 yard pass from Lannom (Turner kick)
T.R. MILLER- Fountain 9 yard run (run failed)
T.R. MILLER- M. Jones 3 yard run (Turner kick)
First downs: T.R. Miller 13, W.S. Neal 5
Third down conversions: T.R. Miller 5-9, W.S. Neal 1-10
Fourth down conversions: T.R. Miller 1-2, W.S. Neal 1-3
Total yards: T.R. Miller 256 (160 rushing, 96 passing), W.S. Neal 163 (103 rushing, 60 passing)
Individual rushing: T.R. Miller- Fountain 21-89 1TD, M. Jones 15-82 1TD, Lannom 2-(-11); W.S. Neal- Gross 16-98 2TD, Folmar 3-6, Smith 8-0, Burch 1-0, Bailey 2-(-1)
Individual passing: T.R. Miller- Lannom 5-10-96 1TD; W.S. Neal- Smith 4-9-60 1INT
Individual receiving: T.R. Miller- M. Jones 3-35, A. Gomez 1-37 1TD, Davidson 1-24; W.S. Neal- Daniel 2-35, Burch 1-21, Folmar 1-4
Individual punting: T.R. Miller- Lannom 2-59, 29.5 avg.; W.S. Neal- Herbert 4-122, 30.5 avg., Gross 1-27, 27.0 avg.
Penalties: T.R. Miller- 5-43, W.S. Neal- 9-47