Oneonta stands between Tigers and berth in championship game
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
It started with 64 teams at the start of the season. When the playoffs started, that list was shaved in half to 32. Now there are only four teams left in the state in Class 3A.
The T.R. Miller Tigers are one of those four teams and they will try to become a state finalist Friday when they host the Oneonta Redskins at 7 p.m.
Many would have preferred this matchup to occur next week. Friday's matchup pits the unbeaten and top-ranked Tigers against the unbeaten and second-ranked Redskins.
"When you get to this point in the season, everybody is good. There are some teams that have been strong throughout the season. Others hit their stride during the postseason. We're just thankful we're one of the four teams still left. When you get this far, anything can happen," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said.
Like the Tigers (12-0), Oneonta (13-0 overall and 7-0 in Region 4) has plenty of postseason tradition. A year ago the Redskins advanced all the way to the state championship game where they lost to Pike County 30-7. Oneonta avenged that postseason loss to Pike County with an 18-13 victory last week in the quarterfinals.
"Oneonta has a lot of weapons. They've got a great balance between run and pass. Their two running backs are probably the best one-two punch in the state," Riggs said.
Those running backs Riggs referred to are fullback Miguel Hurtado (5-6, 202 lb. sr.) and tailback Anthony Motsella (5-11, 170 lb. jr.). Both backs have run for more than 1,000 yards on the season. Hurtado, who has racked up 1,100 yards so far and has averaged 8.5 yards per attempt, went over the 5,000-yard mark for his career during the season. Mostella has ran for 1,050 yards this season and has averaged 6.5 yards a carry.
"A big key to their success is they are different style runners. Hurtado isn't very tall, but he runs with a lot of power. He had an extremely good game last year in the state championship game," Riggs said. "Mostella has great speed. He also has good hands and can catch the ball so he is also a threat as a receiver."
Oneonta often uses a shot gun offense where quarterback Brody Cornelius has thrown for 1,350 yards with 15 touchdowns.
Cornelius has had three main targets. Lee Sims (5-10, 165 lb. sr.) has caught a team high 31 passes for 507 yards with seven touchdowns. Brent Bender (5-8, 150 lb. jr.) has 20 catches for 257 yards and four scores. Lucas Coffey (5-11, 170 lb. jr.) has caught 18 balls for 209 yards with one touchdown.
"They've got a good set of receivers. They aren't that tall, but they all have good hands and good speed. Oneonta tends to use a spread offense. They'll often line up four wide receivers," Riggs said.
While Oneonta'soffense has averaged 30.8 points a game, its sterength may be on the defensive side where it has allowed an average of nine points a game. The Redskins have shut out three foes and allowed a touchdown or less seven times.
"I'd say their defensive strength revolves around their linebackers. Sam Galliard (5-01, 175 lb. soph.) is extremely good at that position. Oneonta's secondary is also pretty solid," Riggs said.
This is the second straight week the Tigers have had to go through an undefeated opponent. T.R. Miller raced out to a 28-0 first half lead en route to a 28-14 victory over fourth-ranked Midfield.
"We didn't expect to dominate Midfield like we did in that first half. We expected a very tough game. We came out and made a couple of big defensive plays and then had some key offensive plays," Riggs said. "We didn't score in the second half, but I don't think our players put things in cruise control. We knew Midfield would make a run at us plus we had a couple of turnovers that stopped good scoring chances for us. As each week goes along, mistakes like turnovers tend to get bigger and bigger because good teams will take advantage of them.
Nick Puryear had his second 100-yard rushing game in the playoffs for the Tigers against Midfield with 104 yards on 10 carries.
"Nick has really been running well. We also did a good job up front with our blocking," Riggs said.
Friday's winner will advance to the state championship game December 9 at Legion Field where it will take on the Winfield (13-0) – Hokes Bluff (10-3) survivor.