Hear them roar: Tigers cruise past EC in battle of unbeatens
Published 12:37 pm Monday, September 18, 2006
By BY RANDY WINTON – SPORTS WRITER
By all accounts, it was arguably the five worst consecutive plays in the rich history of T.R. Miller's football program.
By the time those five plays and 49 seconds elapsed, what had been a 21-0 lead for the Tigers over the host Escambia County Blue Devils in Friday's game at Atmore had been trimmed to just 21-14 with well over a half of football yet to be played.
Rest assured. The Tigers, the second-ranked Class 4A team in Alabama, would go on to win 49-20 in this Region 1 clash of unbeatens. However, it was far from over when that seemingly comfortable lead was followed by one costly penalty, two lost fumbles and two ECHS touchdowns that covered exactly two plays and 11 seconds.
When drastic times called for drastic measures, T.R. Miller's Jamie Riggs did something he had never done in his long history as head football coach. He called timeout just as the teams were lining up for the ensuing kickoff with more than seven minutes to go in the first half.
Heeding the call, his team did just that. Over their next two possessions, which covered 11 offensive plays, the Tigers (3-0 overall, 2-0 in region play) blew the game open with a pair of touchdowns that gave them a comfortable 35-14 halftime lead.
When it was all said and done, the Tiger ground game bullied Escambia County (2-1 overall, 1-1 in region play) for 302 yards and added 66 more through the air. By contrast, a ferocious effort by T.R. Miller's defense held the explosive Blue Devils, who had averaged nearly 300 yards of total offense and 27 points in their first two games, to a mere 113 total yards.
Escambia County sophomore quarterback Michael Thompson had entered the game with 452 all-purpose yards, but was held to just seven yards on 12 frustrating carries. He was intercepted as many times, four, as he completed passes to his own teammates.
While no Tiger broke the century mark on the ground, 10 different runners carried the ball. Seniors Jamal Middleton and Justin Gomez led the charge with a pair of touchdowns each. Middleton had 78 yards on six carries, while Gomez contributed 73 more on 11 totes.
The Tigers opened with a three-touchdown lead, thanks to a 52-yard pass on a post route from senior quarterback Baxley Raines to classmate Brice Martin. Raines would then kick the first of seven point after attempts to make it 7-0.
Following an offensive line anchored by tackle Andrew Chavers, Gomez and Middleton both capped short drives with their first touchdowns. Gomez plunged across from one yard out, while Middleton from 28 yards away to make it 21-0.
Just like that, most of the lead dissipated on two lost fumbles. The first, at the Tiger 35-yard-line, resulted in Thomas' 35-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Green. The second, which came on the ensuing kickoff, landed at the T.R. Miller two-yard line. Jarrod Jefferson cashed that turnover into a touchdown for the Blue Devils on the first play from scrimmage after the miscue on a two-yard dive.
From there, the Tigers responded with Middleton's 27-yard run at the 4:51 mark of the first half and a halfback pass from Seth Holland to Martin from 14 yards out with 44 seconds remaining that enabled the Tigers to open up what seemed to be an insurmountable halftime lead.
Two third quarter touchdowns pushed the lead to 49-14. The first was set up when senior Tanner Shehan, who recorded one of his team's four interceptions, raced through untouched to tackle Escambia County Elliott Fairclotch on fourth down. Led by three carries for 40 yards by Travis Holland, Gomez finished off the possession with his two-yard plunge.
Terrence Walker's second pick of the night set up the second score of the quarter, which was culminated by a nifty 29-yard run by sophomore Matt Lane.
The Tigers return home next week to host Region 1 foe Monroe County. Monroe County improved to 2-1 Friday with a victory over Hillcrest-Evergreen.