Tigers get their shot at the big dance
By By BRUCE HIXON – Sports Editor
A region championship was on the line when the T.R. Miller Tigers and Pike County Bulldogs hooked up six weeks ago.
As valuable as that prize is, the stakes will be considerably higher when the teams hook up again Friday at 7 p.m. at Brundidge.
The winner will earn a berth in next week's Class 3A state championship game, which will be played December 1 at 3 p.m. at Legion Field in Birmingham.
The Tigers (11-2) and Bulldogs (13-0) have gotten to know each other quite well in recent years. In fact, Friday's matchup is the fifth between the teams over the last three years. It also figures to be the last encounter between the teams for the foreseeable future, as T.R. Miller will climb up the classification ladder to 4A next year and the teams do not figure to play in non-region.
The last encounter between the teams was a defensive struggle where the Bulldogs claimed a 10-7 victory. That was by far the fewest points the Bulldogs have scored in a game this season. In fact, Pike County has racked up 634 points, an average of 48.8 points per game.
According to Alabama High School Athletic Association records, the Bulldogs' 634 points are tied for third for most points scored in a season with the 1998 Deshler team. Demopolis set the mark with 761 points in 2004 and Maplesville scored 718 back in 1996.
Playing better competition in the playoffs has not slowed the Pike County scoring express. In fact, it has actually speeded up. The Bulldogs have amassed 156 points in their three playoff wins (an average of 52 points per game) against Alabama Christian 62-0, Midfield 37-8 and last week's 57-8 thrashing of Springville.
Where was T.R. Miller's defense able to succeed where other teams have failed against the potent Bulldogs' offense?
About two-thirds of Pike County's 185 offensive yards in the first meeting came courtesy of running back James Jackson
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(5-8, 157 lb. jr.), who had 126 yards on 15 carries.
Although the Tigers held quarterback Alonzo Foster (5-9, 172 lb. sr.) to just one-for-14 for eight yards with two interceptions in the first meeting, the Pike County quarterback has gotten hot again. Foster completed five of eight passes last week for 128 yards in the win over Springville.
Even if the Tigers can hold down the Pike County offense again, there is the matter of solving the Bulldogs defense. Pike County has allowed just 50 points, an average of 3.8 points per game. The Bulldogs have shut out six foes and no opponent has scored more than eight points.
T.R. Miller was held to a season low 138 yards and just 29 yards rushing the last time they played. However, the Tigers played most of that game without quarterback Jordan Cauley, who went out early in the game with a concussion.
T.R. Miller has won its last 11 games on the road and 20 of its 21 dating back to the start of the 2002 playoffs. The lone loss during that stretch was a 35-34 loss at Pike County in the 2003 state semifinals although the Tigers posted a 52-27 win at Brundidge last year.
This year marks T.R. Miller's sixth straight trip to the semifinal round. The Tigers won it all in 2000 and 2002 and lost in the semifinals to UMS-Wright in 2001, Pike County in 2003 and Oneonta in 2004.