Tigers show champs the exit
By By BRUCE HIXON – Sports Editor
It was a tough lesson the T.R. Miller Tigers learned from last season's semifinal loss to the Oneonta Redskins.
Actually, toughness was the lesson.
The Tigers did their homework well, as they ousted the defending state champions 20-13 in Friday's Class 3A quarterfinal round game played at Brewton Municipal Stadium.
T.R Miller's victory not only avenged last season's 21-14 setback, but it ended the top-ranked Redskins' 27-game winning streak. Oneonta had not tasted defeat since it fell to Pike County 30-7 in the 2003 state championship game.
The Tigers (11-2) will also get another chance at revenge in the semifinals this Friday at 7 p.m. when they travel to Pike County. Pike County (13-0) edged T.R. Miller 10-7 back in week eight of the regular season en route to the Region 1 championship. The Bulldogs punched their ticket for the semifinals with a 57-8 thrashing of Springville. Cherokee County (12-1) and Winfield (12-1) hook up in the other semifinal game. The two winners will play at Legion Field in Birmingham for the state championship December 1 at 3 p.m.
As has been the case throughout the playoffs, the Tigers' defense rose to the occasion with three more takeaways which gave them 11 forced turnovers during the first three postseason games.
Two interceptions by Laine Lucas were converted into touchdowns and a fumble recovery by Mikel Riggs stopped the Redskins inside the T.R. Miller 10-yard line.
The Redskins (12-1) had little trouble taking the opening kickoff and driving 76 yards over 11 plays. On two occasions, Oneonta quarterback Brody Cornelius kept the drive alive with pass completions on third down.
It was also through the air where Cornelius hit Chris Franklin across the middle for a 17-yard touchdown pass. Cody Hunt's conversion kick gave the Redskins a 7-0 lead with 6:50 left in the first quarter.
T.R. Miller also came away with points the first time it touched the ball. Like Oneonta, the Tigers converted a key third down along the way when quarterback Jordan Cauley found Riggs for a 22-yard gain to the Redskins' 18.
Although the Tigers were pushed back two yards, Baxley Raines made sure the T.R. Miller would not come away empty-handed when he split the uprights on a 37-yard field goal attempt. That kick trimmed Oneonta's advantage to 7-3 with 3:08 left in the opening quarter.
The Redskins appeared well on their way to adding to that lead on the ensuing series. Thanks largely to a personal foul penalty on T.R. Miller and a 25-yard completion from Cornelius to Franklin, Oneonta drove to the T.R. Miller 23-yard line where Cornelius had a pass bounce off the hands of Lucas Coffey and into the hands of Tiger defender Laine Lucas for an interception.
That turnover was eventually turned into seven points the other way although it took T.R. Miller 17 plays, 92 yards and nearly eight minutes to do it.
The Tigers converted three third downs along the way and also scored on a third down when Briddell Jones ran it in from two yards out to put the Tigers on top. Raines nailed the PAT to give T.R. Miller a 10-7 lead with 4:20 left in the half.
A defensive stop gave the Tigers a chance to add to that lead before the half ended. A key 43-yard pass from Cauley to Brice Martin on the opening play of that drive eventually led to a 19-yard field goal by Raines on the last play of the half and extended the Tigers' lead to 13-7.
Lucas' second interception of the game came on the Redskins' opening series of the second half. Not only did Lucas pick off the pass just inside T.R. Miller territory, he returned it 35 yards to the Oneonta 19.
From there, the Tigers' offense needed seven plays to cover the distance. The last eight came on a touchdown pass from Cauley to Nykeem Barton along the right sideline in the endzone. Raines added the conversion kick to make it 20-7 with 5:12 left in the third quarter.
Oneonta running back Anthony Mostella, who came into the game with 1,880 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns for the season, was mostly a non-factor in the first half where he had just five carries for 29 yards.
Mostella found his groove on the Redskins' second offensive series of the second half, as he quickly racked up 65 yards on six carries. Seven proved to be an unlucky number for Mostella and the Redskins when he fumbled at the T.R. Miller eight-yard line and Riggs came out of the pile with the recovery.
While Oneonta came away empty on that trip to the red zone, that was not the case on the Redskins' opening series of the fourth quarter when they went 66 yards over seven plays. Aided largely by a 15-yard run by Mostella and a key pass interference penalty, Cornelius got Oneonta back in the game when he hit Justin Bryant for a two-yard touchdown pass with 8:01 left and narrowed T.R. Miller's lead to 20-13.
The Redskins made a costly mistake on the conversion when holder Brent Bender could not get a firm grip on the ball off the snap. Bender picked up the ball and after a wild scramble threw an incomplete pass. The missed conversion mean Oneonta could not beat the Tigers with a touchdown and a conversion kick.
Oneonta still had a chance when it got the ball at its own 29 with 4:09 left. A 17-yard gain on a completion from Cornelius to C.J. Hubauer followed by a pass interference penalty quickly took the ball to the T.R. Miller 39. Another first down on a nine-yard run by Cornelius and a four-yard gain by Mostella took the ball to the Tigers' 26.
A key holding penalty started to close the door on the Redskins. Two incomplete passes by Cornelius, a one-yard gain off the quarterback keeper and another incomplete pass slammed it shut.
At T.R. Miller
Oneonta 7 0 0 6 – 13
T.R. Miller 3 10 7 0 – 20
ONEONTA- Franklin 17 yard pass from Cornelius (Hunt kick)
T.R. MILLER- Raines 37 yard field goal
T.R. MILLER- Jones 2 yard run (Raines kick)
T.R. MILLER- Raines 19 yard field goal
T.R. MILLER- Barton 8 yard pass from Cauley (Raines kick)
ONEONTA- Bryant 2 yard pass from Cornelius (pass failed)
First downs: T.R. Miller 16, Oneonta 23
Third down conversions: T.R. Miller 5-13, Oneonta 4-8
Fourth down conversions: T.R. Miller 2-2, Oneonta 1-2
Total yards: T.R. Miller 248 (116 rushing, 132 passing), Oneonta 282 (146 rushing, 136 passing)
Individual rushing: T.R. Miller- Barton 12-41, Puryear 10-34, Jones 9-23, J. Gomez 2-15, Riggs 2-11, Cauley 2-(-8); Oneonta- Mostella 16-119; Cornelius 7-24, Gibbs 1-3
Individual passing: T.R. Miller- Cauley 9-17-132 1TD; Oneonta- Cornelius 11-24-136 2TD 2INT
Individual receiving: T.R. Miller- Riggs 4-54, Martin 1-43, J. Gomez 1-16, Barton 1-8 1TD, Drakeford 1-8, T. Holland 1-3; Oneonta- Bender 4-41, Franklin 2-42 1TD, Hubauer 2-29, Bryant 2-17, Coffey 1-7
Individual punting: T.R. Miller- Raines 3-94, 33.3 avg.; Oneonta- Cornelius 1-41, 41.0 avg.
Penalties: T.R. Miller 5-45, Oneonta 7-65