Second half dooms Tigers
Published 8:10 pm Sunday, November 19, 2006
By BY BRUCE HIXON – SPORTS EDITOR
Everything the T.R. Miller Tigers won in the first half they lost in the second half.
They lost their ball-controlled offense, their lead and finally their game and season in a 28-10 setback to the Elmore County Panthers in Friday's Class 4A second-round playoff game played at Brewton Municipal Stadium.
The Tigers, who staged three fourth quarter rallies to win games the second half of the season, fell victim to Elmore County's final period surge that saw the Panthers (9-3) score the game's final 21 points.
The Panthers' game plan was not complicated. The only Elmore County skill players to touch the ball the entire game were quarterback Matt Worthy and running back Laron Butler.
Stopping the Panthers duo was a much different story, especially when it came to Worthy. Worthy carried the ball 27 times for 135 yards and scored all four Elmore County touchdowns on runs of one, eight, eight and two yards.
Elmore County's victory can be traced to its success in the battle of the trenches. The Panthers sacked T.R. Miller quarterback Baxley Raines six times, while the Tigers were unable to get to Worthy after the first quarter.
T.R. Miller (10-2) looked like the team that had averaged 37.5 points a game on the opening series when it went 61 yards on just three plays for its only touchdown.
The Tigers, who got a 30-yard kickoff return from Jamal Middleton, got a 46-yard completion from Raines to Brice Martin on their first play from scrimmage. Justin Gomez followed that with a 13-yard gain and a two-yard touchdown run. Raines tacked on the point after conversion to make it 7-0 with the game just 49 seconds old.
Meanwhile the T.R. Miller defense had arguably its best half of the season during the first two quarters. The Tigers forced Elmore County three-and-out on its first two possessions and forced turnovers on the Panthers other two possessions. Matt Lane picked off a pass from Worthy for the first takeaway, but fumbled the ball back to the Panthers. Later in the first half Martin intercepted another Worthy pass. It turned out to be Worthy's last pass attempt of the game after six unsuccessful attempts.
After the quick strike on its initial possession, T.R. Miller struggled to get anything going the rest of the half. The Tigers momentarily appeared to have something going again on their second possession when Raines hit Martin again, this time for a 50-yard gain. That gain was quickly wiped out by an illegal block penalty.
The Tigers spent most of the rest of the half backed up deep in their own territory. The one exception came late in the first half when T.R. Miller drove from its own nine-yard line to the Elmore County 38 on the strength of four completions by Raines, two to Tanner Shehan and one each to Travis Holland and Terrence Walker, for a combined 37 yards.
That possession eventually stalled out after two runs for losses and a fumble out of bounds.
Elmore County, which had just 67 yards of offense in the first half, got a big spark on special teams at the start of the second half when Justin Brown returned the opening kickoff 40 yards to the T.R. Miller 42.
From there Worthy and Butler took turns grinding out yardage over the next 11 plays. Butler had five carries for 18 yards and Worthy had the other six attempts for 24 yards, which included a one-yard touchdown run on the quarterback keeper. Luke Rowe's PAT kick brought the Panthers even at 7-7 with 7:49 left in the third quarter.
T.R. Miller was temporarily able to regain its offensive form on the ensuing series. Raines
hit Martin and Seth Holland
for 18-yard completions and Jamal Middleton had a 26-yard run that got the ball down to
the Elmore County seven-yard line.
Three ensuing rushing plays lost the Tigers three yards and forced T.R. Miller to settle for a 27-yard field goal attempt. Raines split the uprights and put the Tigers back in front 10-7 with 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
The complexion of the game tilted permanently towards the Panthers on the ensuing series.
First, Worthy converted a third-and-four with a 29-yard gain on the opening play of the fourth quarter. Second, the Panthers were faced with a third-and-10 and picked up a first down when T.R. Miller was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty.
Elmore County, which converted its last four third down conversions while T.R. Miller failed in its last four third down attempts, used those conversions to set up an eight-yard touchdown run by Worthy that gave the Panthers their first lead of the game. Rowe's PAT kick extended the lead to 14-10 with 9:42 left.
Elmore County was given a short field to work with after the Tigers' offense went three-and-out from inside their own 20-yard line and the Panthers regained possession from the T.R. Miller 43.
While Butler had the biggest gain of the possession with an 18-yard pickup, Worthy had the other 25 yards on five rushing attempts. The last eight of which came on a touchdown dash to the right side. Rowe's PAT made it a two-possession lead of 21-10 with 6:47 left.
Any hope the Tigers had of another fourth quarter comeback were dashed when Raines was sacked twice, the first time back to the T.R. Miller 11 and the second back to the four-yard line. It got worse one play later when the Tigers fumbled the ball and Elmore County recovered at the two-yard line.
Worthy came up with nothing on his first attempt after the turnover, but sealed the deal with a two-yard touchdown run on the following play. Rowe's conversion made it 28-10 with 4:43 left.
Friday's loss marks the first time the Tigers have failed to advance to at least the semifinal round since they fell in the opening round to Jemison back in 1999. Meanwhile Elmore County advances to this coming Friday's quarterfinal round where it will host Andalusia (9-3). Andalusia earned its ticket with a 22-14 win over Fayette County.