Tigers come so close, yet so far away
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
The T.R. Miller Tigers knew one of the keys to winning Friday's Class 3A state semifinal game at Pike County was stopping tight end Nick Walker.
Little did they know they would have to stop Walker's leg and not his hands once the game reached overtime.
When Walker split the uprights on an extra point attempt, it gave the Bulldogs a dramatic 35-34 victory and ended T.R. Miller's reign as state champions.
"Their kids played well. Our kids played well. It was just a great game by both teams," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said.
It marked the second times this season the Tigers (12-2) had lost in heart-breaking fashion to the Bulldogs. Earlier in the season Pike County (13-1) used a touchdown pass from Chris Nickson to Walker with 10 seconds left to post a 27-21 win at Brewton.
"We figured we would have to score more points than the last time we played them. It just wasn't quite enough," Riggs said.
The Tigers used some dramatics of their own just to get the game into overtime.
Down 28-21 with 22 seconds left in regulation and faced with a fourth down and seven from the Pike County 22, Antonio Gomez kept T.R. Miller's hopes alive with a 15-yard gain for a first down.
On the next play quarterback Brad Lannom hit Tyler Shehan in the back of the endzone for a touchdown with only :05.6 left on the clock. Joseph Turner's point after kick tied the game at 28-28.
T.R. Miller had another clutch play to take the lead in overtime. The Tigers, who had the opening offensive series, got a one-yard touchdown run by Michael Jones on fourth and goal to move in front 34-28. It was Jones' third rushing touchdown of the game.
However, the usually reliable Turner hooked the conversion kick wide right and kept the lead at only six points.
Nickson, who had already burned the T.R. Miller defense for 243 yards passing in regulation, added 10 more to that total when he found a wide open Chris Bell in the endzone on Pike County's first offensive play in overtime. That tied the game at 34-34 and Walker's kick earned the Bulldogs a spot in Thursday's Class 3A state championship game.
Friday's game looked a lot like the first matchup between the teams in that both times Pike County raced out to 14-0 first half leads.
It was the arm of Nickson, who had four touchdown passes, that produced the first two Pike County scores.
The first was a 10-yard touchdown pass to Walker on the first offensive series of the game. The key play that set up that score was a 39-yard pass from Nickson to Bell that moved the ball from midfield to the T.R. Miller 11.
Walker missed the first of two conversion kicks on the night and kept Pike County's advantage at 6-0 with 9:14 left in the game.
The Bulldogs struck again on their next possession. Again, it was the arm of Nickson who connected with Reggie Griffin on an eight-yard pass up the middle.
Two illegal substitution penalties forced Pike County to attempt its conversion from the 13-yard line instead of the three. That did not prevent Nickson from burning the Tigers again, as he teamed up with Walker for a two-point pass to make it 14-0 with 3:43 left in the first quarter.
Jones gave T.R. Miller the spark it needed when he returned the ensuing kickoff back 60 yards to the Pike County 31. Six plays later Jones plowed through the Bulldogs' defense on a one-yard run up the middle on a fourth down play. Turner's PAT kick sliced the Pike County lead in half at 14-7 with 53 seconds left in the period.
While Nickson did plenty of damage with his arm, his legs produced a four-yard touchdown run up the middle halfway through the second quarter that extended Pike County's lead to 20-7. It stayed that way when Walker missed his second PAT kick of the game.
T.R. Miller used a couple of big plays late in the first half to cut into that defcit. Tim Atcher ran for a key first down by inches on a third down and seven situation. One play later Lannom connected with Antonio Gomez on a 21-yard touchdown pass. Turner's kick reduced Pike County's lead to 20-14. with 1:44 left in the first half.
The Tigers' defense helped generate a little more momentum on the first series of the second half when it stopped the Bulldogs on downs near midfield.
From there the Tigers used a key 20-yard run by Atcher and a face mask penalty to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Jones to tie the game. Moments later T.R. Miller had a 21-20 lead when Turner booted the extra point.
That lead held up until there were 42 seconds left in the third quarter when Nickson hit Bell on a 43-yard touchdown pass to put Pike County back on top. Nickson then teamed up with Griffin on a two-point pass that increased the Bulldogs' lead to 28-21.
"We challenged the kids at half-time and I thought we played with more heart and intensity in the second half," Riggs said. "We were able to get some momentum and we had several clutch plays to get the game into overtime."
Pike County will face Oneonta (13-1) in Thursday's championship game. Oneonta earned its berth with a 15-0 win over Colbert County.
At Pike County
T.R. Miller 7 7 7 7 6 – 34
Pike County 14 6 14 0 7 – 35
PIKE COUNTY- Walker 10 yard pass from Nickson (kick failed)
PIKE COUNTY- Griffin 8 yard pass from Nickson (Walker pass from Nickson)
T.R. MILLER- M. Jones 1 yard run (Turner kick)
PIKE COUNTY- Nickson 4 yard run (kick failed)
T.R. MILLER- A. Gomez 21 yard pass from Lannom (Turner kick)
T.R. MILLER- M. Jones 1 yard run (Turner kick)
PIKE COUNTY- Bell 43 yard pass from Nickson (Griffin pass from Nickson)
T.R. MILLER- Shehan 7 yard pass from Lannom (Turner kick)
T.R. MILLER- M. Jones 1 yard run (kick failed)
PIKE COUNTY- Bell 10 yard pass from Nickson (Walker kick)
First downs: T.R. Miller 16, Pike County 15
Third down conversions: T.R. Miller 6-12, Pike County 5-9
Fourth down conversions: T.R. Miller 2-3, Pike County 0-1
Total yards: T.R. Miller 279 (177 rushing, 102 passing), Pike County 335 (82 rushing, 253 passing)
Individual rushing: T.R. Miller- Atcher 9-60, Fountain 13-51, M. Jones 13-39 3TD, A. Gomez 3-22, J. Gomez 2-7, Lannom 6-(-2); Pike County- Nickson 14-67 1TD, Jackson 5-15
Individual passing: T.R. Miller- Lannom 9-20-102 1TD 1INT; Pike County- Nickson 16-34-253 4TD 1INT
Individual receiving: T.R. Miller- M. Jones 3-32, Salter 2-24, A. Gomez 1-21, Davidson 1-13, Shehan 1-7 1TD, Riggs 1-5; Pike County- Walker 6-98 1TD, Bell 4-110 2TD, Griffin 4-30 1TD, Daniels 2-15
Individual punting: T.R. Miller- Lannom 2-63, 31.5 avg.; Pike County- Walker 1-22, 22.0 avg.
Penalties: T.R. Miller 2-10, Pike County 5-41