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Tigers give Riggs his 250th win on the road

When they were backed against the wall, T.R. Miller’s Tigers came out swinging Friday night in Grove Hill. And by the time they finally recorded the knockout punch, it could be argued head coach Jamie Riggs and team will remember this game for a long time.

Struggling to stay in the game in the first half, the Tigers (4-2, 3-1) recovered at the break and came out to put up 20 unanswered points en route to a thrilling 34-26 region victory. Some will say it was memorable for Riggs because it meant his 250th victory leading the T.R. Miller football program.

But for Riggs, the game might be memorable for what he said was the “character” with which the team played. Both the offensive and defensive lines — much maligned in the first half — took control of the second half. From the offensive side, the likes of Harrison Horton, Bryant Jernigan, Avery Couture, Logan Ingram, Edward Hines and Dylan Bell blew Clarke County off the ball. On the defensive side, the line changed the course of the game by keeping a Bulldog offense that dominated the first half off the field for most of the second.

As well, the offensive load was put on the shoulders of senior Jaren Jackson (9 carries, 84 yards, 2 TDs) and freshman Eric Maye (15 for 61) after tailback Anthony Herbert (10 for 70, TD) was injured near halftime and did not return to play in the second half.

“I tell you what,” Riggs said with a smile following his team’s fourth straight win after an 0-2 start, “that was one of those ‘character’ games right there. We didn’t play very well on third downs in the first half and let them off the hook a couple of times only to watch them get a pretty good lead on us.

“But after we made a couple of adjustments at halftime, our linemen on both sides of the ball got the job done. And I’ll tell you something else,” said Riggs, “Jaren Jackson played his guts out. Big players play big in big situations and Jaren stood tall when we needed him. He and Eric (Maye) and Wil (Riggs) and Ryland (Dixon) all made at least one big play that we really needed at that time to help us win. I’m proud of the character this team continues to show.”

From the outset, the Tigers played from behind. Thanks to an 84-yard TD return of the opening kickoff by Tracy Williams, the Bulldogs put the foot on the gas pedal and didn’t let up. In a first half that saw the hosts run out to a 26-14 lead, the Bulldogs converted 5-of-6 third-down opportunities and did it in a big way. In those five third-down plays alone, they totaled 47 yards and scored two touchdowns.

However, the second half proved a different story as the defense kept the Bulldogs at bay. In fact, the Bulldogs were unsuccessful in their first four third-down conversion tries and only converted on two the rest of the way.

In the meantime, the Tigers chipped away at the Bulldog defense. Following senior field general Wil Riggs — who ended the night 11-for-15 for 102 yards and a touchdown — the Tiger offense clicked with tremendous precision. After it fumbled away the opening possession of the second half, the offense chewed up time and yardage and brilliantly put together scoring drives in all three of their following second-half drives, including the eventual game-winner.

“I was proud of how we reacted tonight,” said Riggs. “We faced a lot of adversity tonight and really came through. I’m really proud of what they did tonight.”

In that deciding second half, the three Tiger drives that made the difference clicked off nearly 12 minutes from the game clock.

Jackson capped off the first scoring drive with a 2-yard run following two big pass plays from Riggs. The first went for 16 yards to tight end Ryland Dixon, while Jackson caught the second one and raced 28 yards. After Kameron Wynn’s PAT the Tigers were within 26-21 at the start of the fourth quarter.

A three-and-out defensive stand spurred the offense into action again and a four-minute drive ensued that eventually ended when Riggs bulled in from the 1. A two-point coversion failed, but the Tigers had the lead for good at 27-26.

The final nail came at the 3:02 mark when Horatio Matthews jarred the ball loose from Bulldog star Dre Love and Maye recovered at his own 41-yard-line to give the Tigers a chance to put the game away — which it promptly did five plays later.

Again, Jackson stepped up big. Following a 23-yard run in which he carried eight tacklers down the field on his back, he finished the drive off with an easy 11-yard run. Again, Wynn’s kick was true and the Tigers led 34-26.

Once last defensive stand stalled the Bulldogs’ last-ditch effort when Love’s fourth down pass was errant.

“In our four wins so far, we’ve found a way to win four different ways,” said Riggs. “I think we’re doing some things good and others we obviously still need to work on. But I’ll say this … I like how our kids play hard all night long and they never give up. That’s what makes us awful proud.”

After playing on the road the last two weeks, the Tigers return to Brewton Muncipal Stadium next week to take on 7th-ranked Washington County. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.