Tigers, Eagles renew Murder Creek rivalry
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Their state championship teams of 2000 and 2002 could not do it. Neither could their 2001 and 2003 state semifinalists.
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, it is the 2004 version of the T.R. Miller Tigers that can give the program a region championship Friday with a win over the arch rival W.S. Neal Blue Eagles at Brewton Municipal Stadium. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
T.R. Miller (5-0 in region, 7-0 overall) took a huge step towards the region crown Friday when it defeated defending Class 3A state champion Pike County 52-27. That win not only gave the Tigers sole possession of the region lead, but it also gave them some room for error if they slip up. T.R. Miller only needs to beat either W.S. Neal (2-5) this week or Abbeville (1-6) next week to secure the region championship and a number one seed in the state playoffs.
"Right now none of the playoff stuff matters. Once you're in, you're in and we're in. Our number one goal right now is to beat Neal. It's our biggest game of the year," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said. "Anything extra that comes with beating Neal like a region championship is an added bonus."
While the Blue Eagles may be just 2-5 on the season and have lost nine straight and 20 of the last 21 encounters against the Tigers, Riggs said his squad can not take W.S. Neal lightly.
"It's too much of a rivalry for us to do that anyway, but W.S. Neal has played much better lately. When you look at their games, they've played everybody in our region close and they nearly beat a very good Straughn team Friday." Riggs said. "Earlier in the year Neal had injuries with some key people. If they had stayed healthy, their record might have been different but every team has to deal with injuries."
Riggs added his team's recent dominance in the series means nothing.
Riggs said the Blue Eagles have several key pieces for a successful team.
"For starters, they are by far the biggest team up front we have played. They've got a pretty good running game. Jake Bailey is good fullback and Mario Daniel has a lot of speed. Marquis Barksdale is a an effective option quarterback," Riggs said. "Neal has pretty good speed. When you play a team like that, you can't afford to give up the big play. Avoiding the big play and turnovers will be key to this game," Riggs said.
The Tigers are coming off probably their best offensive game of the season, as they racked up 514 yards in the win over Pike County. Quarterback Jordan Cauley and receivers Jacob Salter and Mikel Riggs all had their best games of their careers. Cauley threw for 332 yards and four scores. Salter caught five of those balls for 179 yards with three scores. Riggs had four catches for 145 yards with another touchdown.
"I think the biggest thing against Pike County was our execution. You start with the blocking by our line. Jordan really threw the ball well and our receivers did a good job of running their routes and catching the ball," Riggs said. "Our offense has really come on in recent weeks, which I think a lot of that is simply experience. The players are starting to feel a lot more comfortable."