Tigers have more than just revenge on their minds against Pike County
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
With six state titles to their program's credit, the T.R. Miller Tigers have had the state's number over the years.
Maybe Pike County does not consider it part of Alabama because it has not fallen victim to the Tigers' state dominance.
While T.R. Miller is 18-2 in its last 20 games dating back to last season, it is 0-2 against the Bulldogs.
Pike County beat the Tigers 19-13 on its home turf last season before T.R. Miller caught fire and won six straight games to claim the state championship. The Tigers extended that winning streak to 13 games with a 7-0 start this season before the Bulldogs got in the way again with a 27-21 victory at Brewton back on October 17.
The stakes will be much higher when the teams clash again Friday at 7 p.m. in Pike County with a state championship game berth in store for the winner.
"It should be a dandy game. We've got a good team. They've got a good team. Something has got to give," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said.
While the Tigers have earned their semifinal berth through wins over Midfield 49-12, Springville 53-25 and W.S. Neal 31-14, Pike County has disposed of Oak Grove 63-0, Lincoln 38-22 and Tarrant 34-28.
The Bulldogs used a 90-yard drive in the waning moments to beat Tarrant. That drive was capped off when quarterback Chris Nickson hit tight end Nick Walker on 23-yard touchdown pass with just over a minute left.
If that scenario sounds familar to T.R. Miller fans, it should. It was a 22-yard touchdown pass from Nickson to Walker with 10 seconds left that beat T.R. Miller earlier this season.
In that game, Pike County jumped out to a 14-0 lead and still led 20-7 headed into the fourth quarter. Skylar Fountain ran for two fourth quarter touchdowns, which included a six-yarder with a minute left that gave T.R. Miller a 21-20 lead.
"The games we had with them last year and this year are both similar in that we fell behind, came back and then they beat us late in the game," Riggs said. "The key for us is not to fall behind this time."
T.R. Miller's ability to do that will center around how well it slows down Nickson (6-1, 190 lb. sr.) and Walker (6-4, 240 lb. sr.).
Nickson accounted for 352 yards of offense the first time around with 115 on the ground and another 237 through the air. Walker was on the receiving end of seven catches for 115 yards.
"I don't think you can completely stop people like Nickson and Walker because they are outstanding players. We can't focus strictly on those two players. They've got other dangerous players besides them," Riggs said.
Two of those are wide receivers Elijah Daniels (6-0, 160 lb. sr.) and Reggie Griffin (5-11, 160 lb. jr.).
"They're both good receivers. They each have good hands and they have a lot of quickness," Riggs said.
Running back James Jackson (5-8, 150 lb. fr.) was a big contributor to the win over Tarrant with 67 yards rushing in the second half of that game.
"He isn't very big, but he is very quick," Riggs said. "He gives their offense a good change of pace. Just when you think they're going to the air, Jackson beats you on the ground."
While Pike County has averaged 41.6 points a game this season, T.R. Miller has averaged 41.5. The Tigers, who rolled up 430 yards of offense against W.S. Neal last week, used a balanced attack with 243 yards on the ground and another
187 through the air.
"That's pretty close to a 60/40 balance between run and pass.
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That's about what I want. If you're 50/50 between pass and run, that means you're probably throwing the ball more because you're behind," Riggs said.
Senior running back Michael Jones had his second straight 100-yard rushing game Friday after he was sidelined for most of two games with a spider bite to his hand.
"Michael ran the ball real well. Skylar Fountain had a good game running and just missed 100 yards. Tim Atcher picked up some yards as well," Riggs said.
Quarterback Brad Lannom completed passes to six different receivers. Sophomore Antonio Gomez led that list with five catches for 77 yards.
"Brad made some good reads in that game. He spread the ball around and did a good job of finding the open receivers," Riggs said.
Little was known of Gomez early in the year, mainly because he is a sophomore. That is not the case now, as T.R. Miller's "Secret Weapon" is no longer a secret. Gomez returned his third kick for a touchdown in the last four games against W.S. Neal.
"We've played Antonio on defense on almost every down all season and we've occasionally spotted him on offnse. The last few weeks he has done a great job with the returns. That has given us another threat," Riggs said.
Friday's winner will travel to Legion Field in Birmingham where it will play the Colbert County-Oneonta winner December 4 at 3 p.m. Like T.R. Miller and Pike County, both of those teams are also 12-1.