Tigers begin defense of state title
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
When the season began there were 63 teams which wanted to replace the T.R. Miller Tigers as Class 3A state champions.
With the regular season over and the playoffs set to begin, that list is down to 31 teams.
One of those teams, the Midfield Patriots, will get a crack to end the Tigers' reign when they visit T.R. Miller in the opening round of playoff competition Friday. Game time is 7 p.m.
T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said his team still has a bull's eye on it because of its 2002 state crown, but that bull's eye is a little different now.
"Everybody wanted to knock us off during the regular season because of what we did last year, but now that the playoffs have begun we're all shooting for the same goal. It really doesn't matter who you play because you're going to get somebody good," Riggs said.
Midfield qualifies as good. The Patriots finished third in Region 4 with a 5-2 record and compiled an 8-2 overall record. Midfield's lone losses were to Tarrant 34-6 and Aliceville 15-14.
The Patriots won six of their last seven games and averaged just shy of 42 points a game in that stretch. Midfield crunched Montevallo 59-14 in its regular season finale Thursday.
"When you're a number two seed like we are, you'd like to think you're getting an opponent that is a little weaker in the opening round since you're playing a number three seed. That isn't the case with Midfield. They are a very good club. They are an eyelash away from being 9-1 and a number two seed. This is a very difficult test for us for a first-round game," Riggs said.
T.R. Miller, which finished the regular season in second place in Region 1 with a 6-1 record and 9-1 overall mark, should be used to this kind of challenge by now. The Tigers finished the regular season with a grueling three-game stretch against Pike County, W.S. Neal and Jay (Fla.).
In each of those games, T.R. Miller fell behind and rallied to take the lead. The Tigers hung on to those leads against W.S. Neal and Jay, but not Pike County.
"I think those games have helped prepare us for the playoffs. Pike County and W.S. Neal both had a lot of speed, while Jay was big and physical," Riggs said.
It is the speed version of football T.R. Miller will get from Midfield.
"You look at every skill position and they've got outstanding speed. Both Pike County and W.S. Neal had some fast players, but neither has the number of fast players Midfield does," Riggs said.
The Patriots have usually used the trio of Pierre Thomas (5-8, 150 lb. sr.), Cortez Pitts (5-7, 154 lb. soph.) and Ramlee South-Roache (5-5, 160 lb. sr.) as running backs.
"Thomas has big time speed. They like to throw the ball to him with both slants and passes down the field. Pitts is their fullback and they will also throw to him as well. South-Roache is probably the best at running the ball. He is both fast and strong," Riggs said.
The T.R. Miller coach said Midfield quarterback Spencer Mencer (5-11, 165 lb. jr.) is a threat with both his arms and legs.
"He isn't afraid to take off and run with the ball. He does a nice job of throwing the deep ball," Riggs said.
Midfield's defense runs a 4-3 front.
"If you start having success running the ball, they'll run a lot of stunts at you," Riggs said.
Riggs indicated the Patriots have a couple of strong linebackers with Dwight Horton (6-2, 245 lb. jr.) in the middle and Antoine Parker (5-11, 250 lb. soph.) on the outside.
On the injury front, the Tigers may be without senior running back Michael Jones for the second game in a row due to a spider bite on his hand. If Jones can not go, junior Jeremy Pete, freshman Justin Gomez and freshman Nykeem Barton will get the call.
"Michael still has a lot of swelling in his hand. Fortunately we've been able to get a lot of players varsity reps this season, including last week's game at Jay. In fact, Pete had a touchdown in that game," Riggs said.
In addition to playing at home, Riggs hopes his team's postseason tradition is also an advantage Friday.
"I think our players who have been through this before know this is a new season. For the ones who haven't been through it, they should feed off those who have," Riggs said.
The winner of the T.R Miller-Midfield game will play the Alabama Christian Academy-Springville winner next week.