Tigers go for perfect regular season
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
It is an honor only six T.R. Miller Tiger football teams have achieved. If the 2004 version of the program has its way, it hopes to soon make that seven.
This year's Tigers hope to join the 1941, 1969, 1990, 1991, 1994 and 1995 T.R. Miller teams that posted undefeated regular seasons. Three of those teams (1969, 1991 and 1994) went on to claim state titles.
The final obstacle in this year's quest is Friday's 7:30 p.m. home and Class 3A Region 1 game against Abbeville.
"At this point of the season, undefeated is where a team wants to be. It's a pretty special accomplishment. A lot of schools have never even had one undefeated regular season and we have a chance Friday for our seventh. There are just so many factors involved that make a perfect regular season very difficult to achieve. In fact, three of our state champions (1984, 2000 and 2002) couldn't do it," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said.
The Tigers (6-0 in region and 8-0 overall) secured their other regular season goals last week with their 38-7 triumph over W.S. Neal. That victory clinched T.R. Miller's first region championship since 1997 and wrapped up a number one seed and home game for the Class 3A playoffs.
Meanwhile Abbeville (1-5 in region and 2-6 overall) halted a six-game slide last week when it rallied to beat Headland 19-7 for its first region win of the season. The Yellow Jackets trailed 7-0 at halftime in that game before they posted 19 unanswered points in the second half to get the win. Abbeville's other win this season was a 62-0 non-region triumph over Barbour County in the season opener.
"Their win last week has to give them some confidence coming to our place. Abbeville can be a tough team to play at this point in the season. With their situation being what it is, out of the playoffs, they can throw every trick play in the book and some that aren't in the book at us. We have to prepare for everything," Riggs said.
At the same time Riggs said Abbeville has some formidable weapons to throw at teams.
"They've got pretty good speed. They've been using a two-quarterback system with D.J. Wiggins (5-11, 159 lb. soph.) and John Grubbs (6-1, 203 lb. sr.). Grubbs, who also plays wide receiver, is probably the better thrower of the two although they each have their own attributes. Marcus Cotton (5-9, 191 lb. jr.) is a good running back who is capable of making big plays," Riggs said.
The T.R. Miller offense has used different production to post big numbers the last two weeks. Quarterback Jordan Cauley threw for 332 yards two weeks ago in the win at Pike County. Last week it was the running game, particularly Tim Atcher, Nick Puryear and Justin Gomez (a combined 214 yards rushing with five touchdowns) that led the way.
"We prepare to run and pass every week, but the way we attack in a game is based on what the defense dictates," Riggs said. "I thought we ran the ball extremely well last week, especially Puryear. I thought he did a great stop stepping in for Nykeem Barton, who was injured."
T.R. Miller's defense forced five turnovers against W.S. Neal and special teams had the equivalent of three others with a recovered onsides kick and two safeties.
"Our defense created a lot of opportunities for us, but it's what we did with those opportunities that was big in that game. We scored off most of those turnovers," Riggs said.
Injuries continue to mount for the Tigers. Atcher is doubtful for the Abbeville game with a shoulder injury. Barton and Antonio Gomez remain sidelined with ankle and knee injuries respectively. Kicker Reo Kirkland is also questionable.
"We've got the equivalent of a bye week next week before the playoffs. While I'd rather be playing Jay, it's a good time to get people healed up before the playoffs," Riggs said.