Tigers look to pay back Pike County
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Chris Nickson, Nick Walker, Trent Davidson and most of the other household names that have made the T.R. Miller-Pike County series one of the state's most competitive and highly contested have moved on.
Although Nickson may be at Vanderbilt now and both Davidson and Walker share the same locker room at Alabama, their successors have kept their programs in a familiar position.
Once again the stakes will be high when the Tigers travel to Brundidge Friday to face the defending Class 3A state champions at 7:30 p.m.
On the line this time will be the Region 1 lead. T.R. Miller, still ranked number one in the state, is perfect on the season at 4-0 in region play and 6-0 overall. Meanwhile Pike County has rebounded from an 18-0 loss to Booker T. Washington in week one with five straight victories. The Bulldogs are also 4-0 in region play.
Friday's winner will also not only take a big step towards the Region 1 championship, but the winner will also secure a playoff berth.
Few teams have had T.R. Miller's number over the years, but Pike County is one of them. The Tigers have not beaten the Bulldogs since a 36-22 triumph in the state quarterfinals back in 1991. Pike County has won the last four meetings, including last a pair of nailbiters last season (27-21 on a touchdown in the final 10 seconds in the regular season and 35-34 in overtime in the state semifinals).
"We owe them some payback, but it's going to be tough. Pike County has another good team and Brundidge is a tough place to win. We'll have to play our best game in three or four years to get it," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said.
After some early season offensive struggles, T.R. Miller is probably catching the Bulldogs at a bad time. Pike County is coming off a 53-33 thrashing of Dale County last week.
In that game, quarterback Alonzo Foster (5-8, 173 lb. jr.) put on a passing clinic. Foster completed 16 of 22 passes for 311 yards with seven touchdown passes.
"I think a big reason why Foster is playing so much better now is simply experience. He got very few snaps the last couple of years playing behind Nickson and it took him a few games this season to settle into that role," Riggs said.
Foster spread those seven touchdown passes out among four receivers. Running back James Jackson (5-6, 158 lb. soph.) had three of those touchdown receptions 29, 13 and 20 yards. Calvin McClendon had a pair of touchdown receptions of (5-9, 180 lb. sr.) for 11 and 45 yards.
Another key figure against Dale County was Fred Caffie (5-10, 160 lb. jr.). Caffie had a nine-yard touchdown reception and two fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown.
"I think the fact Foster spread those touchdown passes out among so many different receivers is an indication of the amount of weapons Pike County has," Riggs said. "This Pike County team isn't as big as the one they've had in recent years, but they are faster."
One essential Riggs said his team must do in order to win is tackle well.
"With the speed they have, their players can go all the way if you miss tackles. We have to be able to contain their running game, mainly Jackson, at the line of scrimmage. When they got to the air, we have to be able to limit the yards after the catch if they do make a reception," Riggs said.
At the same Pike County drilled Dale County, the Tigers dismantled Headland last Friday 42-7. An impressive item about T.R. Miller's win is it accomplished it with its top two rushers, Tim Atcher and Antonio Gomez, sidelined. In fact, Gomez will still be out this week with an ACL injury.
"Antonio's situation is week to week right now. We'll reevaluate his status next week," Riggs said. "We had a lot of people step up in their absence last week like Nick Puryear (43 yards and a touchdown), Travis Holland (33 yards) and Briddell Jones (30 yards and a touchdown). We got out to such a big lead that those guys didn't get many carries in the second half."