Tigers try to keep string going EC
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
No coach would say practice gets to a point where it is counterproductive, but T.R. Miller Tigers coach Jamie Riggs said his team has probably reached the next closest stage.
"I'm not sure we're going to get any better now until we play a game and see what we have," Riggs said.
The Tigers get that opportunity Friday when they travel to Atmore and face the Escambia County Blue Devils. Game time is 7 p.m.
The season opener and Escambia County have been a good combination for T.R. Miller in recent years. The Tigers have won their last five season openers and 13 of their last 14. The lone exception during that stretch was a 14-12 loss to Clarke County in 1998. Escambia County has been the Tigers' victim in week one the last four years and T.R. Miller has beaten the Blue Devils 10 straight times since a 33-13 loss in 1993.
"I think you can look at our recent wins over Escambia County in a couple of ways. That may be in the back of their players' minds and it could become a mental factor if we get off to a quick start," Riggs said. "On the other hand, you could say they are due to beat us. For years, they had a pretty good string of wins against us. Now we've got the run."
While T.R. Miller was idle last week, Escambia County opted for the exhibition route and suffered a 7-0 loss to Shaw.
"Shaw was able to get a lot of penetration against their line and pretty much bottled up their offense. That surprised me because the line should be one of Escambia County's strengths because they have quite a few people back," Riggs said.
Those experienced linemen the T.R. Miller skipper referred to include Chris Graham (5-11, 190 lb. sr.), Ricky Lyons (5-11, 220 lb. sr.), Spario Banks (5-10, 275 lb. sr.), Wade Blackwell (5-11, 280 lb. jr.) and Michael McAnally (5-10, 350 lb. jr.).
Escambia County relied a lot on its passing game last season and may do so a lot this season with quarterback Calvin Hartley (5-11, 155 lb. jr.). Hartley started about half of the Blue Devils games last season.
"I actually think they will try to keep the ball on the ground. I think teams tend to do that a lot in the opener unless they have an exceptional and experienced quarterback returning," Riggs said.
If the Blue Devils go to the run game Friday, T.R Miller will have to deal with Kendrick McNeal (5-11, 180 lb. sr.). McNeal got a large bulk of the ground work in the game against Shaw. Escambia County will also use Delron Staples (5-11, 230 lb. sr.) and Darrell Stephens (5-9, 160 lb. jr.).
The Blue Devils finished 3-7 a year ago, 2-5 in Class 5A Region 2. This year Escambia County has dropped down a class to 4A.
"Whenever you're playing schools up in classification, you usually have to compete with their numbers. Those teams tend to have a lot more depth and they have fewer two-way players. I think another thing you tend to see with the bigger schools is better kicking games. Those schools will usually have more coaches to work more on that part of the game," Riggs said.
Riggs said he and his coaching staff are getting close to deciding Friday's lineup. One area he said is still undecided is at quarterback where juniors Antonio Gomez and Jordan Cauley along with sophomore Baxley
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Raines have all gotten a lot of reps in practice.
"We may not make a decision until Friday. We also have some spots in our backfield that are a little up in the air. I think we're pretty well set in our other offensive spots. On the defensive side, we have a pretty good idea who we're going with, but we're still trying to decide on our rotation," Riggs said.
The T.R. Miller skipper said his team should be at 100 percent Friday from a health standpoint.
"Right now everybody should be good to go Friday. We've got a few normal bumps and bruises, but nothing serious," Riggs said.