Defensive Tigers rally to nip Trinity
Published 6:16 pm Monday, November 6, 2006
By BY BRUCE HIXON – sports editor
It was a long time in coming. In fact, the T.R. Miller Tigers did not get their first defensive score of the season until the fourth quarter of their last regular season game.
It was well worth the wait, as Jamal Middleton's 10-yard interception return with 4:57 left broke a 21-21 tie and propelled the Tigers to a 28-21 win over the Trinity Presbyterian Wildcats Friday at Brewton Municipal Stadium.
The win enabled the Tigers (9-1), who fell to seventh in the Class 4A state polls this week, to ease some of the frustration from their previous week's 42-35 setback to W.S. Neal. Meanwhile Trinity, ranked ninth in the 4A poll, had an eight-game winning streak snapped and fell to 8-2 on the season.
The Tigers overcame three turnovers, a missed extra point and an eight-point fourth quarter deficit due largely to the six turnovers created by the T.R. Miller defense. Four of the Tigers takeaways came in the fourth quarter.
None were bigger than the interception return by Middleton. The Tigers had just pinned Trinity inside the five-yard line after a pinpoint 47-yard punt by Baxley Raines. T.R. Miller stopped Wildcats quarterback Austin Morris for no gain and forced him into an incomplete pass before Middleton stepped in the way of Morris' next attempt and ran into the end zone.
While it was the Tigers' defense that provided the last and decisive score, it was also T.R. Miller's defense that set up its initial strike.
Just three plays from scrimmage into the game Tigers freshman Cody Swain picked off a pass from Morris at midfield. T.R. Miller was dealt a brief setback three plays later when it had a 39-yard touchdown pass from Raines to Brice Martin negated by an ineligible receiver penalty, but a 22-yard gain by Travis Holland on the next play put the Tigers back in business again and put the ball at the Trinity 17.
It was all Justin Gomez from there, as the senior running back had runs of four and six yards to set up his own seven-yard touchdown run with 7:40 left in the first quarter. Raines extended the lead to 7-0 with the point after kick.
It took Trinity just over three minutes to answer with an 80-yard drive on the ensuing possession. Much of the damage came on a 23-yard pass from Whit Mitchell to Wilson Van Hooser and a 31-yard run by Zack Shaw. Those gains eventually set up a one-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper by Mitchell. Drew Stokely's brought the Wildcats event at 7-7 when he nailed the PAT with 4:06 left in the opening frame.
Trinity failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity to take the lead just two plays later when Brooks Blackmon picked off a pass from Raines at midfield and returned it 30 yards to the T.R. Miller 20.
The Wildcats got as close as the Tigers' four-yard line after a 16-yard pass from Mitchell to Morris, but a sack and an offensive pass interference penalty that wiped out a seven-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to Morris forced Trinity to have to settle for a 38-yard field goal attempt by Stokely. The Tigers were able to get some penetration and partially blocked Stokely's kick to keep the score tied.
While a penalty took away a Trinity score on that possession, two flags by the Wildcats defense on the following T.R. Miller possession helped the Tigers to regain the lead.
The key play came on a third-and-12 from the Trinity 38 when Raines missed a sideline pass to Martin. However, the Wildcats, who had a face mask penalty earlier in the series, were flagged for defensive pass interference. The penalty gave the Tigers a first down and kept the possession alive.
It proved to be a costly mistake for the visitors, as it enabled T.R. Miller to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Gomez, his 23rd score of the season and 15th in the last four weeks. The Tigers were unable to extend the 13-7 lead when Raines' PAT sailed wide left with 8:05 left in the half.
Trinity responded with a 13-play, 77-yard march that ate up nearly six minutes off the clock. The Wildcats, who got a big 31-yard run by Shaw, converted one third down and one fourth down along the way before Shaw scored on a fourth-and-goal from one yard out with a dive across the T.R. Miller defense and into the end zone. Stokely gave the Wildcats a 14-13 lead with 2:38 left in the half when he connected on the extra point.
The Wildcats, whose only other loss had come against Montgomery Academy in the season opener, quickly added to that lead on their opening possession of the second half.
Shaw got more than half of his 127 yards rushing in the game on one play when he broke through the Tigers defense for a 65-yard run. While Shaw was tackled just short of the goal line on that run, he covered the final two yards one play later when he hauled in a scoring toss from Morris. Stokely's PAT kick extended Trinity's advantage to 21-13 with 9:47 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers had a chance to cut into that lead on their ensuing possession. T.R. Miller converted two fourth-and-ones in a 72-yard, 12-play march that also featured a 27-yard run from Gomez. The Tigers got all the way inside the Trinity one-yard line, but Gomez was stopped on a fourth-down plunge up the middle.
While the T.R. Miller offense came up short, its defense created one of its four second half turnovers on the ensuing series when Shaw fumbled at the Wildcats' 41-yard line and Gomez was there to pounce on the ball.
A key 30-yard pass from Raines to Travis Holland and a seven-yard run by Holland helped the Tigers get the ball back to the Trinity one-yard line.
From there, Raines tried to score on a keeper up the middle on the second play of the fourth quarter when he found that part of the field plugged up. The senior quarterback then reversed directions and ran to the right where he extended his body and stuck the ball across the goal line as he was falling down. The Tigers pulled even at 21-21 when Raines hit Travis Holland in the left corner of the end zone with 11:19 left.
A miscue by the T.R. Miller special teams set the Wildcats up for a possible go-ahead score after a defensive stop. The Tigers fumbled a punt inside their own 25-yard line and Griffin Littlefield recovered for the visitors at the 23.
Just one play later Gomez came up with his second fumble recovery of the half when Mitchell lost a pitch in the backfield.
It was just a series of mistakes that plagued the Wildcats down the stretch.
Three plays after Middleton made his decisive interception return of a Morris pass, Martin picked off another attempt.
That turnover combined with a 37-yard run by Seth Holland on a fourth down fake punt attempt appeared to be all the Tigers needed to finish off the win.
Trinity was able to give itself one final chance when it recovered a fumble by Matt Lane after a 10-yard gain at its own six-yard line with 1:25 left.
While the Wildcats picked up one first down, Martin made sure the threat would go no farther when he made his second interception of the quarter.
T.R. Miller now gears up for postseason play. The Tigers will host Greene County Friday in the opening round at 7 p.m. Greene County (3-7) was crushed 69-6 by Demopolis in its regular season finale.