Region crown fits Tigers just fine
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
It is not so much the mistakes by themselves that beat the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles.
Instead it was what T.R. Miller did with those mistakes that paved the way for the Tigers' 38-7 triumph over their arch rival Friday in the annual Battle of Murder Creek held at Brewton Municipal Stadium.
This victory extended T.R. Miller's dominance in the series to 10 straight and 21 of the last 22 encounters. W.S. Neal has not won in the series since a 36-14 victory in 1996.
In addition to bragging rights, the win also enabled the Tigers to clinch the Class 3A Region 1 championship. T.R. Miller last claimed a region title in 1997. It also moved the Tigers (6-0 in region, 8-0 overall) to within a victory of an undefeated regular season, something only six other T.R. Miller teams have accomplished and none since 1995. The Tigers will get an opportunity to accomplish that feat Friday when they host Abbeville at 7:30 p.m.
"Winning the region is nice. For all intent, it is only a playoff seed, but it's a good accomplishment for our team at this point of the season," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said.
Meanwhile on the other side of the picture, the loss eliminated W.S. Neal (2-4 in region, 2-6 overall), from playoff contention. Slocomb's 40-20 win over Dale County Friday also eliminated the Blue Eagles.
"We'll use our final two games of the season (Friday's Homecoming game against Headland and next week at Southern Choctaw) as a way to get better. We'll probably play some more of our younger players and give them some experience, but at the same time our goal is to win these last two games and end the season on a positive note," W.S. Neal coach Shane Smothers said.
Any chance the Blue Eagles had of knocking off the state's top-ranked team in Class 3A went out the window Friday with three interceptions and two lost fumbles. T.R. Miller also recovered an onsides kick and forced two safeties.
"T.R. Miller makes you pay for your mistakes and we obviously had too many of them. T.R. Miller is extremely quick and they can beat you in a lot of ways," Smothers said.
For the most part, the Blue Eagles did the things they needed to do in order to have a chance at an upset in the first half.
After the Tigers got a three-yard touchdown run by Justin Gomez and a point after kick by Baxley Raines that capped off a six-play, 54-yard drive on the game's first series, W.S. Neal's defense stiffened and allowed T.R. Miller just 25 more yards on offense for the rest of the first half.
Meanwhile the Blue Eagles' offense orchestrated a 16-play, 78-yard drive that ate up more than nine minutes off the clock.
Along the way W.S. Neal converted four straight third down opportunities.
The long series finally ended on the first play of the second quarter when Jake Bailey plowed into the endzone from one yard out. Josh Danley's PAT kick tied the game at 7-7.
W.S. Neal's first turnover helped T.R. Miller break that deadlock when Justin Marshall recovered a fumble by Blue Eagles quarterback Marquis Barksdale at the Blue Eagles' 20.
Four plays later Gomez converted the turnover into six points with a two-yard touchdown run. Raines' kick extended T.R. Miller's lead to 14-7 with 8:24 left in the half.
It was also a turnover that thwarted a Blue Eagles threat just before halftime. W.S. Neal, which outgained T.R. Miller 148-79 in the first half, got as close as the Tigers' 17 when first a personal foul penalty and finally Jacob Salter's interception of a Barksdale pass in the endzone preserved T.R. Miller's 14-7 lead headed into halftime.
Thanks largely to turnovers and other miscues created by T.R. Miller's defense and special teams, W.S. Neal generated just 15 yards total offense in the second half. That figure included a minus 23 yards rushing.
"We really didn't make any big adjustments at halftime. We just eliminated some of the mistakes we made in the first half," Riggs said.
The game quickly got out of reach early in the second half.
W.S. Neal began the third quarter with the ball, but quickly gave it up when T.R. Miller's Keath Turner recovered a fumble at the Tigers' 43 after a completion from Barksdale to Dewayne Floyd.
Five plays later Tim Atcher scored on a run from 15 yards out. Raines' kick made it 21-7 with 8:29 left in the period.
T.R. Miller gave W.S. Neal an even bigger jolt moments later when Laine Lucas recovered an onsides kick.
"We felt that was a good time to try it. Most of the time teams are thinking about what they will be doing on offense, not an onsides kick. We got 13 points without their offense touching the ball. It was probably the biggest sequence of the game," Riggs said.
It became even bigger when Jordan Cauley completed a 42-yard pass to Salter to set up a three-yard touchdown run by Gomez, his third score of the night. Just like that T.R. Miller's lead was 27-7 despite a missed extra point attempt.
The Tigers were not done yet. Gerald Banton produced the third interception by the Tigers' defense midway through the third quarter when he picked off a Barksdale pass and returned it 40 yards to the W.S. Neal 20.
Nick Puryear did the rest on the next play with a dash from the right side to the endzone. Raines' kick made it 34-7 with 7:26 left.
Special teams gave T.R. Miller its final two scores. W.S. Neal punter Daniel Hodge had to fall on the ball in the endzone for a
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safety when he bobbled the long snap on a kick attempt.
The Tigers got a second safety a couple of minutes later when W.S. Neal's Johnathan Alexander caught a punt just inside the Blue Eagles' 10. In an attempt to elude the T.R. Miller coverage team, Alexander went backwards and was tackled in the endzone for another safety that made it 38-7 with 1:50 left.
At T.R. Miller
W.S. Neal 0 7 0 0 – 7
T.R. Miller 7 7 13 11 – 38
T.R. MILLER- J. Gomez 3 yard run (Raines kick)
W.S. NEAL- Bailey 1 yard run (Danley kick)
T.R. MILLER- J. Gomez 2 yard run (Raines kick)
T.R. MILLER- Atcher 15 yard run (Raines kick)
T.R. MILLER- J. Gomez 3 yard run (kick failed)
T.R. MILLER- Puryear 20 yard run (Raines kick)
T.R. MILLER- safety (Hodge tackled in endzone)
T.R. MILLER- safety (Alexander tackled in endzone)
First downs: T.R. Miller 13, W.S. Neal 11
Third down conversions: T.R. Miller 2-6, W.S. Neal 7-13
Fourth down conversions: T.R. Miller 0-0, W.S. Neal 0-1
Total yards: T.R. Miller 284 (233 rushing, 51 passing), W.S. Neal 163 (45 rushing, 118 passing)
Individual rushing: Atcher 13-96 1TD, Puryear 8-83 1TD, J. Gomez 6-33 3TD, Holland 5-21, Jones 1-6, Taylor 1-2; W.S. Neal- Daniel 12-32, Bailey 8-25 1TD, Dexter 1-6, Roh. Travis 2-4, Alexander 1-0, Ron. Travis 1-0, Hodge 1-(-11), Barksdale 6-(-11)
Individual passing: T.R. Miller- Cauley 3-4-51 1INT; W.S. Neal- Barksdale 12-22-118 2INT, Hodge 0-2-0 1INT
Individual receiving: T.R. Miller- Salter 2-46, Drakeford 1-5; W.S. Neal- Crane 3-52, Daniel 3-24, Floyd 2-19, Alexander 2-14, Bailey 2-9
Individual punting: T.R. Miller- Raines 3-99, 33.0 avg.; W.S. Neal- Hodge 2-46, 23.0 avg.
Penalties: T.R. Miller 4-25, W.S. Neal 3-25