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No title but still big year for Tigers

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
These days the T.R. Miller Tigers football program sits somewhere between disappointment and satisfaction.
While the Tigers are still licking their wounds after Friday's 21-14 Class 3A state semifinal loss to Oneonta, T.R. Miller fans are appreciative of the countless memories the Tigers' 12-1 record provided.
"Around here the expectations are pretty high. While the optimistic approach is to think you can win it (state) every year, that's really not realistic for anybody. We had a heck of a year. We just fell a little short against a really good team in Oneonta. Unfortunately in this sport you don't get second chances in the postseason," T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs said.
Among the Tigers' accomplishments was their first region championship since 1997 (when they won the old area format), the state's number one ranking in Class 3A throughout the regular season, five regular season wins over playoff qualifiers and their fifth straight trip to the state semifinals.
"Going into the season I thought we were capable of having a really good season, but we had to have some things go our way," Riggs said.
One of those key items was almost an entire reconstruction of the offensive unit. Despite having to put new faces in almost every position, T.R. Miller averaged 36.6 points a game.
"It probably took us three or four games before we really started to click. A lot of that was inexperience. Then we had the situation where we put Jordan (Cauley) in at quarterback full-time after Antonio (Gomez) got hurt. Jordan wound up doing a great job," Riggs said.
All Cauley, a junior, did was throw complete 60 percent of his passes (70-for-117) for 1,583 yards with 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Eleven different Tigers caught at least one pass led by senior Jacob Salter's 21 receptions for 600 yards. Senior Damien Jackson along with juniors Mikel Riggs and Javaris Drakeford all had at least 10 receptions.
Although T.R. Miller did not have one rusher with dominant numbers, seven Tigers ran for at least 100 yards. Tim Atcher (665 yards) passed Nick Puryear (650) for individual team high rushing honors in the final game. The Tigers return all of those top seven rushers.
"We got a lot of people involved in the offense and that was by design. I think the more people you get involved, the better because everybody has different skills. Not only do we have most of our skill people back next year, we've got some younger players I think can help us next year as well," Riggs said. "We will have to rebuild some of the line, but we do have Justin Marshall and Julius Harris back. Brooks Fussell saw some time up front as well so we'll be counting on him even more next season."
Thanks largely to a defense that gave up just 13.8 points a game (10.8 in the regular season), T.R. Miller trailed on just one occasion (7-0 against Andalusia) until it fell behind 21-0 to Oneonta.
"We weren't real big, but for the most part we did do a good job of tackling and covering people," Riggs said.
Special teams had mixed results. While Baxley Raines gave T.R. Miller solid punting and kicking, the Tigers had some struggles with their kick coverage.
"We gave up some pretty good returns at times. One of the problems we had was we just didn't have enough big bodies to run into people, but you have to find ways to overcome that. That's an area we'll need to improve in next season," Riggs said.
The T.R. Miller coaching staff is in a time of transition. Defensive coordinator Alan Baker is leaving the program after 21 years of service. Meanwhile the additions of linemen/linebackers/special teams coach Eddie Brundidge and linemen coach Marc Edge this season provided the Tigers a big boost.
"We certainly hate to lose Alan. He and I go back a long time. We played togther in high school and then we were both assistant coaches here. Then Alan remained an assistant when I became the head coach. We'll really miss his attitude, his enthusiasm and his work ethic. He was a big plus with our weight room work. He'll continue to help out in that respect through the end of the school year," Riggs said. "Marc and Eddie did a great job in their first year with us. It was a transition for both of them to be an
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assistant coach again after having been a head coach. They
both had a lot to learn in a relatively short amount of time because of their hiring date this past summer, Marc more so than Eddie. We gave them a lot of responsibility this first year and we'll give them even more next year."
T.R. Miller will lose the services of seniors Damien Jackson, Gerald Banton, Jacob Salter, Justin Curry, Corey McLellan, Tye Walker, Rodney Lane, Keath Turner, A.J. Daugherty, David Stokes, Steven Robinson, James Hildreth, Marcus Jones, Michael Mashburn, Tyler Chapman, Chris Rayfield and Tyler Shehan.
"I was pleased overall with our seniors. We've probably had more talented senior classes, but this particular class gave us a sincere commitment throughout the season. They were always there to practice. They had a great attitude and they were good leaders," Riggs said. "I think our current junior class
will be good leaders next year as well. A lot of them have played together for several years and have mixed well together."
Riggs plans on holding his spring practice again in February.
"That has worked out pretty well for us in the past. I like to get that out of the way before our kids get involved in spring sports. It wasn't the case this year because it was really wet, but usually the weather is pretty good at that time to practice. As long as it works, I see no need to change," Riggs said.