Tigers comeback falls short
By By BRUCE HIXON
In a sport full of "what ifs," T.R. Miller Tigers coach Jamie Riggs refused to make any.
Instead Riggs and the Tigers were the first ones to tip their helmets to the Oneonta Redskins, who came to Brewton and snatched a 21-14 victory in the Class 3A state semifinals Friday.
"As a coaching staff, I'm sure there were ways we could have done a better job. At the same time, we tell our players not to make excuses. The coaching staff isn't going to make excuses either. Sometimes you just get beat," said Riggs, who will now have to wait until at least week two next season in order to get the two wins he needs to reach 200 for his career.
Friday's clash of the titans pitted not only a pair of unbeatens, but the states's top-ranked Tigers and the second-ranked Redskins.
"Oneonta has a very good team. They should do well next week (in the state championship game against Winfield)," Riggs said.
T.R. Miller, which lost in the state semifinals for the second straight year and the third time in four seasons, nearly pulled out a comeback for the ages. The Tigers were down 21-0 with three minutes left when they scored a pair of touchdowns in a span of 88 seconds. T.R. Miller, which recovered an onside kick after its first score, came up empty on its second attempt after it pulled within a touchdown.
"For all intent, Oneonta dominated the game for three quarters. They had us stymied on offense, especially in the first half. Their offensive line did a great job of protecting their quarterback (Brody Cornelius). No matter how well you cover receivers, they're eventually going to get open. That set up their run and (Miguel) Hurtado did the things we knew he was capable of doing," Riggs said.
Both teams missed their share of chances. Oneonta lost fumbles at the T.R. Miller five and four-yard line and had a pass picked off at the Tigers' five. Meanwhile T.R. Miller missed a 33-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the first half and got stopped on downs after it got as close as the Oneonta two-yard line on the opening series of the third quarter.
"We came up with some big defensive plays that kept us in the game, but so did they. We kept feeling we were going to score, but never did until late in the fourth quarter," Riggs said.
Oneonta (14-0) missed a chance to strike on the initial series of the game. A 35-yard kickoff return by Lucas Coffey along with the help of an 18-yard pass from Cornelius to Lee Sims and a 16-yard pass from Cornelius to Brent Bender helped Oneonta get the ball to the T.R. Miller five-yard line where Damien Jackson stripped the ball away from Hurtado.
While the Redskins, who have not lost since falling to Pike County in last year's state championship game, were thwarted on that drive, it did not take them long to be back in business.
On its second possession, Oneonta quickly went 46 yards in five plays. The last six of those came on a touchdown pass from Cornelius to Bender. David Barnett's point after kick gave the Redskin a 7-0 lead with 2:11 left in the first quarter.
That score put T.R. Miller behind for the first time since it trailed 7-0 against Andalusia back in the fourth game of the season and it was just the second time the Tigers trailed all season.
Oneonta doubled that lead on its next possession, as the Redskins went 78 yards in only seven plays. Cornelius threw his second touchdown strike of the first half, this one a 36-yard connection to Coffey. Barnett's PAT kick made it 14-0 with 10:15 left in the half.
The margin could have been become a lot worse. Oneonta threatened to make it a three-score lead only to be turned away when Jacob Salter came up with Hurtado's second fumble at the Tigers' four-yard line midway through the second quarter.
Meanwhile T.R. Miller's offense had only gotten as far as the Oneonta 46 until its final series of the first half.
The Tigers drove 80 yards and converted two third downs and one fourth down along the way thanks to a run by Justin Gomez and pass completions from Jordan Cauley to Mikel Riggs and Cauley to Laine Lucas.
It all went for naught when time forced T.R. Miller to settle for a 33-yard field goal attempt, which Baxley Raines hooked just wide left on the last play of the first half.
T.R. Miller threatened again to get on the board on its first series of the second half. The Tigers drove from their own 39 all the way to the Oneonta two when three running plays backed T.R. Miller up eight yards and ended the series on downs.
The Redskins missed another chance to break the game open late in the third quarter. With the ball at the T.R. Miller 29, Cornelius made perhaps his lone mistake of the game when he put up an ill-advised pass that was picked off by Antonio Gomez at the Tigers' five.
T.R. Miller was unable to shake loose the poor field position and Oneonta soon had another chance. This time the Redskins delivered what appeared to be the knockout blow. Hurtado, who ran for 137 yards on 19 carries, made up for his two lost fumbles with a one-yard touchdown dive over the
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top on fourth down. Barnett's PAT made it 21-0 with 5:17 left.
At that point, i