Battle of Murder Creek: round two
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
If the T.R. Miller Tigers go on to bigger and better things down the postseason road, they may look back at the second half of their 20-14 win at W.S. Neal as a turning point in their season.
After the Tigers erased a 14-point halftime deficit to win that game, T.R. Miller has dismantled Jay (Fla.), Midfield and Springville by a combined margin of 137-53. The Tigers have compiled 1,017 yards of offense in those games.
Such play has pushed T.R. Miller (11-1) into the Class 3A quarterfinals where it will host W.S. Neal (10-2) Friday at 7 p.m. in a rematch of the October 24 contest.
"We've played well, but we've played well as a team. I think we're hitting our stride right now. It seemed when the playoffs arrived, you could really tell a difference in the attitude of our players," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said.
T.R. Miller, which had 421 yards of offense in Friday's 53-25 second-round win at Springville, got a big boost from the return of senior running back Michael Jones. Jones, who missed most of the previous two games due to a spider bite on his hand, ran for 102 yards and three touchdowns.
"Getting Michael back was real important to us. He is an excellent back and a good blocker. We really missed his speed when he was out," Riggs said.
An equally big part of the Tigers' success has been on special teams. Sophomore Antonio Gomez returned his second kickoff for a touchdown in three weeks with a 90-yard run at Springville.
"Special teams is an area where we've worked real hard. Antonio has done a good job on the returns, but we've also done a good job blocking to set up those returns," Riggs said.
While W.S. Neal could point at various factors that might have swung the outcome its way in the first meeting, the Tigers could argue they won despite their worst half of the season in the first half of that game.
T.R. Miller lost three fumbles, was outgained 153-74 in yards and trailed 14-0 on the scoreboard. As bad as things were that half, the Tigers were nearly perfect in the second half when they outgained W.S. Neal 182-10, did not allow a first down and outscored the Blue Eagles 20-0.
"It was a game that could have gone either way. I know this game will be different. I just don't know how," Riggs said. "We've studied video from that game and from their recent games. One thing you can say about W.S. Neal is they keep making plays to win. It may be on offense, defense or special teams. That is a sign of a good team."
W.S. Neal running back Alphonso Gross ran for 96 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns in the first half of that game. In the second half, a leg cramp limited him to just two carries for two yards.
"I think you obviously start your defensive approach with Gross because he is an outstanding back. At the same time we can't just worry about finding a way to stop him. When you put so much focus on one or two players, that is when somebody else can step up and get you and W.S. Neal certainly has other good players," Riggs said.
This is the third time Riggs has had one of his T.R. Miller squads play W.S. Neal in the playoffs. Both times the Tigers came out on top.
"It's such an emotional game I think playing each other once a season is enough. For whoever wins, you just hope you don't spend every thing you've got in this game," Riggs said. "I'm not sure it's much of an advantage to have beaten them the first time around. We've played teams for the second time in the playoffs and we've been on both ends. We know it's a game where they know what we're going to do and they know what we're going to do. It's just a matter of who can execute the best."
Friday's winner will advance to next week's semifinal game against the Pike County-Tarrant survivor. T.R. Miller would be at Pike County and it would host Tarrant.