Tigers roar past Jay in playoff tuneup
By By RANDY WINTON Sports Writer
Good or bad, this has been the trademark of a T.R. Miller football season chock full of intrigue. Game after game, giant goofs have been righted by even bigger responses.
The latest chapter was written Friday night by sophomore Antonio Gomez.
Somehow, it just happens. Through the ebb and flow of a football game, the Tigers have a knack for timing. Just when it needs to turn it up a notch, T.R. Miller flips the switch and leaves opponents in the dust.
The dust is where Gomez left Jay's kickoff coverage team at the most crucial point of T.R. Miller's eventual 35-16 win at the Florida school.
Having booked just 11 first half plays against a Royals team that controlled the first half with 36 plays of its own and having just given up an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown on the first drive of the second half, T.R. Miller was in dire need of that one play that would turn the game around.
When that time came, Gomez answered the call.
Jay, which had controlled the tempo for 24 minutes, took its only lead of the game at 16-14 when Kevin White stepped in front of a Brad Lannom pass, picked it off and raced 80 yards to the end zone. When the momentum had seemed to be on Jay's side, Gomez took the ensuing kickoff and raced 87 yards to the opposite endzone. The result was the first of three unanswered second half touchdowns that boosted the Tigers to victory.
"That's typical of what we've done all year long," Tigers coach Jamie Riggs said. "It seems like every single game we've given up a big play only to turn around and respond with a big play of our own to win the game. Antonio's kickoff return certainly was the biggest play of the game. Jay is a very physical team and they had control of the game until then. That touchdown changed the game for us. It was big."
After they coasted through most of the season, the Tigers had played back-to-back emotionally-draining games (a 27-21 loss to Pike County, and a come-from-behind, 20-14 win at W.S. Neal). Friday's regular season finale had Riggs a bit concerned about his team's mental make up. Further, the Tigers played without stars Michael Jones (spider bite on his hand) and linebacker Samaritan Cunningham (hip pointer).
The big question coming in was just how full was that "emotional tank."
"After the last couple of weeks, I wondered how much we had left. Having Pike County and W.S. Neal in consecutive weeks, it's natural that we would have spent a lot of emotion in those games. We seemed to respond well when we needed to and I'm proud of our guys for that. We haven't played very well in the first half of the last two games, but we seemed to put it together in the last two halves of those games to win," Riggs said.
While the wins were the bottom line, Riggs knows the importance of putting a full game together now that the playoffs loom on the horizon. The Tigers (9-1) return home Friday to face a dangerous Birmingham Midfield team in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs. Game time is 7 p.m.
Despite the fact it controlled the first half, Jay, which had been ranked as high as fourth in Florida's Class 1A this year, found itself with a 14-9 deficit at the break. Interceptions by Tyler Shehan and Rodney Lane thwarted two long drives by the Royals and directly led to both Tiger touchdowns.
In T.R. Miller's s 11 first half plays, it got a 71-yard touchdown pass-and-catch from Lannom to tight end Trent Davidson and a 44-yard kickoff return by Gomez that set up a 22-yard touchdown pass from Lannom to Kyle Rush.
Lannom, in fact, hit his first three passes of the half for 117 yards. His second completion, a 24-yarder to Mikel Riggs, came a play before Rush's touchdown and helped the Tigers take their halftime lead.
As has been the case most of the year, T.R. Miller used its first second half possession to try and take control of the game. On that nine-play drive (remember, the Tigers had only 11 total plays in the first 24 minutes), it seemed to be doing so before Lannom tried to find Davidson on an out pattern. Instead White made a great play for the long interception return for the touchdown with just over seven minutes to play in the third quarter.
Faced with a 16-14 deficit, Gomez hauled in the ensuing kickoff and broke through the middle before he raced down the right sideline for what proved to be the play of the game for T.R. Miller.
"I wanted that one," Gomez, a sophomore, said. "When the hole opened up, I just tried to hit it at the right time and break it outside. Once I got there, our guys did a great job getting me the opening I needed. The hole was there. All I had to do was get through it, get outside and hope nobody would catch me. Everybody did what they were supposed to do and I just wanted to do my job. It was a big play for us."
Three plays later, Joseph Turner backed it up with another huge play. With the ball at the T.R. Miller 49, Turner intercepted a Jay pass and raced down the right sideline before he stepped out at the Jay three-yard line. Skylar Fountain covered the distance on the next play and Turner's third of four point after kicks made it 28-16 with 4:40 left in the third quarter.
The final nail in the coffin came when sophomore linebacker Justin Marshall picked off the fourth interception of the night at the 44-yard line. As the Tigers ran the clock out on the ground, Jeremy Peete scored from 11 yards out. That culminated a six-play drive, as the quarter ended to make it 35-16.
T.R. Miller 7 7 14 7 – 35
Jay 0 9 7 0 – 16
T.R. Miller- Davidson 71 yard pass from Lannom (Turner kick)
JAY – Jernigan 32 field goal
T.R. MILLER- Rush 22 yard pass from Lannom (Turner kick)
JAY- Patrick 3 run (kick failed)
JAY – White 80 yard interception return (Jernigan kick)
T.R. MILLER- A. Gomez 87 yard kickoff return (Atcher run)
T.R. MILLER- Fountain 3 yard run (kick failed)
T.R. MILLER- Peete 11 yard run (Turner kick)
First downs: T.R. Miller 11, Jay 19
Total yards: T.R. Miller 268 (123 rushing, 145 passing), Jay 281 (146 rushing, 135 passing)
Pass completions: T.R. Miller 5-8 1INT, Jay 8-13 4INT
Fumbles/lost: T.R. Miller 2-1, Jay 1-0
Punts: T.R. Miller 1-51, Jay 1-35
Penalties: T.R. Miller 4-30, Jay 1-5