Classic finish goes to WSN:Eagles rally from 21 down, score with 8 seconds left to nip TRM

Published 5:36 pm Monday, October 30, 2006

By BY BRUCE HIXON – sports editor
It was only fitting members of the 1946 T.R. Miller Tigers and W.S. Neal Blue Eagles were honored prior to Friday's annual Murder Creek battle.
Those individuals helped start a classic rivalry and they witnessed arguably the greatest battle in the 60-year history of the series when W.S. Neal rallied in the waning moments for a 42-35 win over the previously undefeated and Class 4A top-ranked Tigers at Brewton Municipal Stadium.
Down 21-0 at halftime against a program it had lost 11 straight, 22 of 24 and 32 of 35 games, the Blue Eagles stormed back on the strength of a 28-point fourth quarter and 42-second half points. It was almost not enough.
T.R. Miller took a 35-34 lead with 58 seconds left when Justin Gomez scored his fifth touchdown of the game and 13th in three weeks on an 11-yard run.
Gomez's role was changed from hero to side note when W.S. Neal quarterback Marquis Barksdale hit Justin Smith on a 30-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-10 with eight seconds left and gave the Blue Eagles their first win in the series since a 36-14 triumph in 1996.
Having seen W.S. Neal's offense already rack up three fourth quarter touchdowns, T.R. Miller coach Jamie Riggs admitted his team was probably &#8220guilty” of scoring too quickly when Gomez gave the Tigers the lead with 58 seconds left.
Despite a 6-2 record and a four-game winning streak coming into the game, some may have questioned the Blue Eagles' status because none of those wins had come against a team with a winning record. The win over T.R. Miller obviously changes that viewpoint.
The same thing that gave W.S. Neal (7-2 overall and 5-2 in Class 4A Region 1) life in the second half was the same thing that helped T.R. Miller (8-1 overall and 6-1 in Region 1) build its big lead in the first half, turnovers.
The first came just three plays into the game when T.R. Miller's Tanner Shehan picked off a Barksdale pass and returned it 20 yards to the W.S. Neal 36-yard line.
It took the Tigers, who will still enter the playoffs as a number one seed despite the loss, just four plays to take advantage of the miscue. Gomez gave a preview of things to come for him when he dashed 22 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. Baxley Raines hit the first of his five point after attempts on the night to make it 7-0 just 61 seconds into the game.
The Blue Eagles looked as if they would match that score with one of their own on the ensuing series. W.S. Neal drove from its own 33 to the T.R. Miller 19 when Barksdale hit Justin Howard across the middle just in front of the goal line. As Howard tried to pick up the final yard, he was stripped of the ball and Shehan came up with his second turnover in two possessions.
Not only were the Blue Eagles denied of at least six points, T.R. Miller responded with a 13-play, 99-yard march that ate up more than seven minutes off the clock. Along the way Gomez converted two third downs into first downs, one with an eight-yard run and the other off a six-yard pass from Raines. Both eventually set up Gomez for a six-yard touchdown run. Another Raines kick made it 14-0 with 9:17 left in the half.
The Tigers had a much shorter field to cover the next time their offense touched the ball after a three-and-out stop by their defensive unit and a short punt.
This time T.R. Miller covered 44 yards in just seven plays, as Gomez hauled in a nine-yard touchdown strike from Raines with 4:25 left in the half. The lead hit 21-0 after Raines' PAT kick.
T.R. Miller's second half began the same way W.S. Neal's first half did. Three plays into the third quarter W.S. Neal's Xavier Singleton picked off a pass from Raines and returned it to the T.R. Miller 30-yard line.
Smith, who had 70 of his 120 yards rushing in the game in the second half, gave W.S. Neal another spark when he broke loose on a 25-yard gain that set up a one-yard touchdown keeper by Barksdale to put the Blue Eagles on the board. It remained a 21-6 lead for the home team when Barksdale was stopped short on a two-point conversion run after a high snap with 9:18 left in the third quarter.
W.S. Neal's defense responded with back-to-back three-and-outs.
The Blue Eagles offense responded after the first stop with a 43-yard touchdown throw from Barksdale to Howard. The same tandem also hooked up on a two-point conversion that narrowed the Tigers' advantage to 21-14 with 4:41 left in the frame.
Barksdale found Howard again on the ensuing series when they teamed up for a 22-yard touchdown pass on the opening play of the fourth quarter. The Blue Eagles took their first lead when Barksdale hit Jonathan Alexander in a similar spot in the end zone for a two-point conversion that put W.S. Neal on top 22-21.
The Blue Eagles' defense forced their second turnover of the half on the following possession when Alexander intercepted a pass from Raines and returned it 50 yards to the T.R. Miller 26-yard line.
Nykeem Barton burned his former club with a 12-yard gain followed by a 14-yard touchdown run that suddenly gave W.S. Neal 28 unanswered points and a 28-21 lead with 10:05 left despite a failed conversion pass.
T.R. Miller regained some of its lost momentum with a seven-play, 60-yard march. Raines was a perfect five-for-five on the series for 45 yards to set up a 12-yard scoring run by Gomez. Raines brought the Tigers even at 28-28 when he nailed the PAT with 7:18 left.
In a game full of big plays, Alexander came up with one of the biggest on the following possession when he hauled in a 25-yard pass from Barksdale on a third-and-22 along the right sideline. Alexander's catch enabled W.S. Neal to maintain possession, which was followed by a 17-yard gain by Barksdale and a four-yard touchdown run by Barton with 2:29 left to put the Blue Eagles back in front 34-28. W.S. Neal missed its third conversion of the game and 12th in three weeks when Barksdale was pulled down just short of the goal line.
It looked for a while that time would be on the following series when Raines guided T.R. Miller 64 yards down the field in just five plays. The T.R. Miller senior first hit Brice Martin on a 13-yard gain followed by a six-yard toss to Gomez. The biggest play came when Raines found Shehan on the left side. Shehan broke a tackle and went 34 yards to the W.S. Neal 11-yard line. From there, it was Gomez time, as he got his fifth touchdown of the game on a run through the middle and to the left. Raines put the Tigers up 35-34 when he nailed the extra point with 58 seconds left.
T.R. Miller opted to kick the ball deep and Smith gave the Blue Eagles hope with a 30-yard return to the W.S. Neal 45.
With the Blue Eagles out of timeouts, W.S. Neal had few play options except for sideline passes.
Barksdale hit Alexander on a 13-yard gain that moved the ball into T.R. Miller territory and Barton on a 12-yard pickup that moved the ball to the T.R. Miller 30-yard line with 32 seconds left.
Barksdale went back to the air thee more times only to be turned away with incomplete passes each time. The last came on a fierce hit by Kendall Land on Smith.
In need of at least a first down to keep any hope left, the Blue Eagles got that and more when Barksdale went back to Smith and connected at the 10-yard line. Defenders swarmed Smith immediately, but he took the pile with him into the end zone with just eight seconds left and put W.S. Neal back in front. Barton gave the Blue Eagles some additional insurance when he ran in the conversion to make it 42-35.
the regular season this Friday. W.S. Neal will host Calhoun for its Homecoming game, while T.R. Miller entertains 4A ninth-ranked Trinity Presbyterian. Both games start at 7 p.m.