Eagles try to put "what if's" behind them
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Ever since the T.R. Miller Tigers rallied from 14 points down in the second half to beat W.S. Neal 20-14 back on October 24, the Blue Eagles and their followers have wondered "what if."
What would have happened if W.S. Neal would have had the services of running back Alphonso Gross along with linebacker Roc Herbert and lineman Kendreal Williams for the entire second half of that game?
What would have happened if the Blue Eagles had picked up just one first down in the second half? Would it have eaten up enough clock to prevent T.R. Miller from scoring the winning touchdown with 45 seconds to go?
What would have happened if W.S. Neal had taken advantage of a T.R. Miller fumble at the Tigers' nine-yard line in the first half. A touchdown and conversion in that situation would have put W.S. Neal firmly in control with a 21-0 lead.
The one certainty about the "what ifs" is they do not matter.
W.S. Neal (10-2) will get a chance to avenge that setback when it gets a rematch with the Tigers (11-1) in Friday's Class 3A quarterfinal round at Brewton. Game time is 7 p.m.
Despite the loss, Blue Eagles coach Shane Smothers felt his team gained some confidence against a T.R. Miller program that has beaten W.S. Neal eight straight times and 19 out of the last 20.
"We didn't trail until the last 45
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seconds of that game so we were certainly in position to win it," Smothers said. "We can wonder what would have happened if this had happened or that had happened. Then again so can they. I'm sure they wonder what would have happened if they hadn't lost four fumbles. I'm sure thy feel if they can eliminate mistakes like that, they'll win Friday."
The Blue Eagles earned their spot in the quarterfinals with a 10-6 win over Aliceville in the opening round and 14-7 overtime triumph at home over Montgomery Academy in round two.
W.S. Neal's defense has for all intent given up just one touchdown in the first two rounds. Aliceville's touchdown came after the Blue Eagles fumbled the ball at their own two-yard line. During the first two playoff games W.S. Neal has forced its opponents into seven turnovers.
In the regular season matchup, T.R. Miller committed four turnovers against the Blue Eagles. W.S. Neal will need a similar effort against a T.R. Miller squad that has racked up 137 points in its three games since then (against Jay, Midfield and Springville).
"I really don't think they are doing anything different from when we saw them the first time. They're just clicking on all cylinders right now," Smothers said. "They're players are used to being in this postion. They expect to win, but so do our players."
While it is no secret W.S. Neal's offense centers around Gross and the running game, the Blue Eagles' passing game showed some signs of life against Montgomery Academy.
Freshman quarterback Justin Smith completed four of his last five attempts for 56 yards. Two of those completions, 20 yards to Marcus Folmar and 22 yards to Jeremy Burch, came on W.S. Neal's last drive in regulation and set up a potential game-winning field goal attempt.
"Justin is a great competitor and he showed a lot of composure on that drive. He has had a good week of practice so far," Smothers said.
Smothers said W.S. Neal's offense could be its best defense.
"The way T.R. Miller is playing right now the only way to stop their offense is to keep it off the field. We need some sustained drives. That is what got us in trouble in the second half against them the first time we played them. We didn't pick up any first downs and our defense spent way too much time on the field," Smothers said.
Friday's winner will advance to next week's semifinal game against the Pike County-Tarrant survivor. W.S. Neal would play at Pike County or it would host Tarrant.