Tigers road ends at Pike County

Published 2:00 am Monday, November 28, 2005

By By BRUCE HIXON – Sports Editor
It would seem strange for a program that has won six state championships to feel like a bridesmaid.
One could hardly blame the T.R. Miller Tigers and especially their senior class from feeling that way after their season slipped away Friday with a 42-21 loss to the host Pike County Bulldogs in the Class 3A semifinals.
It marked the third straight year the Tigers had their season cut short a step shy of Birmingham and the Super Six state championship series. T.R. Miller lost 21-14 to Oneonta in the semifinals last year and 35-34 in overtime to Pike County on the same field two years ago.
Although the Tigers (11-3) put up the most yards (313) and points (21) that any team had all season against the Pike County defense, the Tigers were swallowed up by the Bulldogs' offense that recorded 35 unanswered points after T.R. Miller took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
While the Pike County offense that racked up 354 yards made its fair share contribution to the win, it was a fumble recovery return for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown that turned the tide in Pike County's favor.
While mistakes by the Tigers fueled Pike County's surge, it was mistakes by the Bulldogs that got T.R. Miller out in front in the early going.
The Tigers turned the ball over three times in the game including one on the third play from scrimmage when Jordan Cauley's pass was intercepted by Kevin Marshall at the Pike County 27.
Two plays later Bulldogs running back James Jackson, who ran 23 times for 134 yards, fumbled in the backfield and Justin Gomez recovered for T.R. Miller at the Pike County 34.
The Tigers quickly cashed in, as five plays later Nykeem Barton ran into the endzone from nine yards out. Baxley Raines added the point after kick to put T.R. Miller in front 7-0. It marked the first time all season Pike County (14-0) had trailed in a game.
The Tigers immediately got another break when Pike County fumbled the ensuing kickoff and T.R. Miller's Tanner Shehan recovered at the Pike County 36.
While the Tigers came up empty on that possession, the turnover enabled T.R. Miller to pin the Bulldogs deep with a punt and they kept them there with a three-and-out stand on defense.
This time T.R. Miller took advantage of the good field position, as it went 38 yards over seven plays. Along the way the Tigers converted two third downs, which included a 20-yard completion from Cauley to Antonio Gomez that took the ball down to the two-yard line.
From there, Barton registered his second touchdown of the quarter with a two-yard run. Raines booted the PAT to make it 14-0 with 1:08 left in the quarter.
The Tigers' defense broke, but it did not break on the ensuing series where it allowed Pike County to drive from its own 37 to the T.R. Miller five-yard line where Jackson was stopped a yard shy of the first down marker on a fourth down run.
The momentum the Tigers had built up to that point quickly vanished when Barton fumbled in the backfield and Pike County's Roderic Griffin scooped up the ball and ran it in from three yards out for a touchdown. Jarmon Barrow's PAT cut T.R. Miller's lead in half to 14-7 with 8:42 left in the half.
Stunned but not shaken, the Tigers quickly got in position to answer right back. Briddell Jones busted loose for a 53-yard run on the first play after the kickoff that took the ball to the Pike County nine-yard line.
A holding penalty and a sack moved the Tigers back to the 27-yard line where Raines attempted a 44-yard field goal. The junior kicker had enough distance on the kick, but it sailed just wide right and kept the T.R. Miller lead at 14-7.
Jackson had runs of 31 and 19 yards after the miss that quickly had the Bulldogs knocking on the door again. They finally came through when Alonzo Foster scored on a one-yard quarterback keeper. Barrow then tied the game at 14-14 with the PAT with 1:56 left in the half.
T.R. Miller made the mistake of kicking the ball deep to Jackson to start the second half and the Pike County speedster went 88 yards untouched to put the Bulldogs ahead. Barrow's kick made it 21-14.
The rolling snowball the Tigers were caught in continued to grow after the T.R. Miller offense went three and out. The Bulldogs went 68 yards in nine plays where Jackson scored again, this time on an eight-yard run. Barrow's PAT now had the Bulldogs in front by 14 points, 28-14, with 6:12 left in the period.
After another three-and-out series, the struggling Tigers' offense got the boost it needed from the defense when Hayes Peace recovered Jackson's second fumble of the game at the Pike County 46. It was the 14th takeaway for the Tigers in four postseason games.
Just two plays later T.R. Miller gave the ball right back when Cauley was intercepted by Barrow.
Pike County converted that turnover into seven points the other way when Darrell Reynolds scored on a nine-yard run and Barrow added the PAT to make it 35-14 with 1:12 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers missed a chance to cut into that gap on the ensuing series, as they drove all the way to the Pike County two-yard line only to be stopped on downs.
That was not the case on their next opportunity where a roughing the passer penalty and a 17-yard run by Justin Gomez set up a 20-yard touchdown pass from Cauley to Brice Martin in the right corner of the endzone. Raines added the PAT to trim Pike County's lead to 35-21 with 6:16 left.
The Bulldogs quickly made sure the game would not get any more interesting when Jackson broke loose for a 35-yard gain to set up a six-yard touchdown run by Barrow. Barrow then hit his sixth conversion of the night to make it 42-21 with 3:16 left.
Pike County will play Cherokee County (13-1) Thursday at 3 p.m. for the state championship. Cherokee County blanked Winfield 28-0 in the state's other semifinal.
At Pike County
T.R. Miller 14 0 0 7 – 21
Pike County 0 14 21 7 – 42
T.R. MILLER- Barton 9 yard run (Raines kick)
T.R. MILLER- Barton 2 yard run (Raines kick)
PIKE COUNTY- Griffin 3 yard fumble recovery return (Barrow kick)
PIKE COUNTY- Foster 1 yard run (Barrow kick)
PIKE COUNTY- Jackson 88 yard kickoff return (Barrow kick)
PIKE COUNTY- Jackson 8 yard run (Barrow kick)
PIKE COUNTY- Reynolds 9 yard run (Barrow kick)
T.R. MILLER- Martin 20 yard pass from Cauley (Raines kick)
PIKE COUNTY- Barrow 6 yard run (Barrow kick)
First downs: T.R. Miller T.R. Miller 15, Pike County 19
Third down conversions: T.R. Miller 6-14, Pike County 3-7
Fourth down conversions: T.R. Miller 0-1, Pike County 1-2
Total yards: T.R. Miller 313 (147 rushing, 166 passing), Pike County 354 (319 rushing, 35 passing)
Individual rushing: T.R. Miller- Jones 6-71, Barton 15-52 2TD, J. Gomez 4-16, Puryear 4-11, Cauley 1-(-3); Pike County- Jackson 23-134 1TD, Reynolds 9-89 1TD, Barrow 6-51 1TD, Foster 10-45 1TD
Individual passing: T.R. Miller- Cauley 10-27-166 1TD 2INT; Pike County- Foster 1-5-35
Individual receiving: T.R. Miller- A. Gomez 4-65, Martin 3-39 1TD, Riggs 2-44, Lucas 1-18; Pike County- Caffie 1-35
Individual punting: T.R. Miller- Raines 4-146, 36.5 avg.; Pike County- Bennett 2-71, 30.5 avg.
Penalties: T.R. Miller- 2-25, Pike County- 4-45

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