Tigers win game of survival

Published 4:02 pm Monday, October 16, 2006

By BY BRUCE HIXON – sports editor
Nobody will argue Jackson Aggies running back Andrew Ezell put up the game's best individual numbers.
Then again, T.R. Miller running back Justin Gomez had some impressive numbers of his own. Even better, Gomez put up his numbers in a winning performance, as the Tigers survived a 38-34 struggle with the Aggies on Homecoming Night at Brewton Municipal Stadium.
Ezell ran for 200 yards in the first half alone. While he was held to a more tolerable 57 yards in the second half, his 257 yards for the game on 26 carries were the most individual rushing yards allowed by the T.R. Miller defense since W.S. Neal running back Alphonso Gross chalked up 275 in the 2003 state quarterfinals.
Despite the gaudy numbers by Ezell, who had three touchdowns to go with his yardage output, Gomez chalked up 116 yards on 19 carries and four touchdowns. One of those scores was a one-yard plunge with 5:35 left that erased what had been a 34-31 lead for the Aggies.
The Tigers, who took over the top ranking in the state in Class 4A during the week, clinched a spot in next month's state playoffs with the win. T.R. Miller (5-0 in region play and 7-0 overall) needs to win only one of its two remaining games against winless Hillcrest-Evergreen this coming week or W.S. Neal the following week to clinch the Region 1 championship, a number one seed and a first-round home game.
Jackson hardly played like a team that fell below the .500 mark in both region play at 2-3 and for the season at 3-4. The Aggies, thanks largely to Ezell, nearly matched the Tigers blow for blow.
It did not look like it would start out that way when Ezell fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and T.R. Miller's Mabry Cook recovered at the Jackson 30-yard line.
Gomez helped the Tigers cover 26 of those yards over three carries, one of which was an eight-yard touchdown run to the left side two minutes into the game. Baxley Raines contributed the first of his eight points in the game from kicking with the point after attempt to make it 7-0.
T.R. Miller, which had a successful onside kick attempt the previous week that helped it beat Thomasville, tried to catch the Aggies by surprise the same way.
This time the ploy did not work and Jackson's recovery gave the Aggies good field position just inside their half of midfield. Ezell, who had 100 yards rushing even in both the first and second quarters, helped atone for his earlier fumble with runs of 14 and 23 yards to set up his own six-yard dash to the endzone.
T.R. Miller was able to preserve a 7-6 lead with 6:59 left in the quarter when Brice Martin blocked J.D. Mitchell's PAT.
Much like their first score, the Tigers' second score was set up by their defense. Gomez proved he was more than just an offensive weapon when he intercepted a pass by Kent Meyer at the Jackson 26-yard line.
It took T.R. Miller just three plays to reach the endzone when Gomez scored again, this time on a six-yard run. Raines made it 14-6 with the PAT with 2:48 left in the quarter.
Ezell began to establish himself as a dominating force when he broke loose for a 46-yard run. That play set up his own eight-yard scoring run on the first play of the second quarter. It was also Ezell who ran in the two-point conversion that tied the game at 14-14.
The shootout continued when T.R. Miller answered with a 10-play, 67-yard drive. A key play came at the Jackson 30 when Raines avoided a sack and hit Terrence Walker on a seven-yard pickup. While that was a modest gain, the Tigers got 12 more yards on a roughing the passer penalty on the Aggies.
The flag preceded three straight runs by Gomez, which included a two-yard touchdown run that T.R. Miller back in front. Raines made it a 21-14 lead with 5:28 left.
One of the few defensive stops by the Tigers on the ensuing series did not turn out to be a stop after all. Jackson lined up in punt formation, but Ezell took the snap and sliced his way through the T.R. Miller defense for a 62-yard touchdown run. Mitchell pulled the Aggies even again at 21-21 with the PAT with 5:28 left in the half.
Two big plays by Travis Holland enabled T.R. Miller to break the deadlock. Holland had a 19-yard run and a huge 43-yard reception from Raines. While T.R. Miller was unable to get the ball into the endzone, Raines kicked a 30-yard field goal with 1:45 left in the half that gave the Tigers a 24-21 lead.
T.R. Miller was able to get the ball back when it stopped Jackson on downs at midfield. While there were only 22 seconds left at the start of the possession, the Tigers quickly went that distance when Raines hit Jamal Middleton on a 30-yard gain and Gomez on a 22-yard pickup. Those plays set up a one-yard touchdown keeper by Raines with less than a second left on the clock. Tthe PAT kick by Raines extended T.R. Miller's lead to 31-21 at halftime.
The second half started much like the first half except in reverse. This time it was two turnovers by the Tigers that set up the Aggies' offense.
Raines was picked off by DeMarcus Besteda on the third play of the second half at the Jackson 20-yard line.
The Aggies pushed the ball out to their own 44 when Besteda caught a deflected pass from Meyer and ran 56 yards untouched for a touchdown. Mitchell brought Jackson to within 31-28 with the PAT with 9:06 left in the third quarter.
Raines was also intercepted on the next series, this time by Corey Besteda, at the T.R. Miller 45-yard line. Five rushing attempts by Ezell netted 40 yards and preceded a five-yard touchdown pass from Meyer to Wil Stevens that put Jackson up 34-31 with 1:12 left in the third quarter. Mitchell missed his second PAT on a kick that went wide left.
While the first three quarters was constant up and down the field action, defense restored some normalcy to the game in the final frame.
The Tigers, who went three-and-out early in the period, pinned the Jackson offense deep in its own territory with a stop of their own.
A short punt gave T.R. Miller the ball at the Jackson 39 where the Tigers grounded out that yardage over eight plays. T.R. Miller converted a pair of third downs along the way, one of which came on a key 14-yard run by Gomez. Gomez's clutch play preceded his own one-yard touchdown plunge two plays later that put the Tigers back in front. Raines made it 38-34 with 5:35 left.
Jackson had a pair of chances left to pull the game out, but it went three-and-out on the first chance at their own 20-yard line and got stopped on downs on its final chance at its own 17.
T.R. Miller's game at Hillcrest-Evergreen this coming Friday kicks off at 7 p.m.

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