A Sweet win
Trailing Class 2A’s No. 3-ranked Sweet Water Bulldogs 27-14 with 6:23 left in the game Friday night, the T.R. Miller Tigers rallied for two late scores to stun the Bulldogs and come away with a 28-27 win in the final game of the regular season.
The win over Sweet Water – who have won nine overall state championships and have won five championships in current head coach Stacy Luker’s 11 years and made it to semifinals five of last six years- may have given the Tigers a psychological boost heading into the playoffs after last week’s loss to W.S. Neal in the Battle of Murder Creek.
The Tiger defense forced an incomplete pass from the Bulldogs on fourth down to give their offense back the ball at their own 20-yard line with 2:52 left in the game.
From there, the Tigers – ranked No. 7 in Class 3A – drove 80 yards and got the game tying score with 17.9 left in the game when quarterback Kevin Davis hooked up with Ryan Hunt for a 7-yard score to tie the game a 27-all. Kicker Trey Salter kicked the extra point to give the Tigers a one-point lead. From there the Tiger defense held on for three plays and knocked a late Bulldog pass down to seal the win.
“Sweet Water has a great football team and it is pretty obvious,” Tiger head coach Jamie Riggs said. “They are a great 2A football team and they have some tremendous players and the only thing we finally did was we got some momentum and gave the ball to Dominique Jackson in the second half. I think when we made the stop down here (to get ball back to setup game-winning touchdown), we believed we could drive the length of the field. Kevin did a great job of keeping his cool and just throwing the thing out there and getting some first downs. We told them at halftime if we could just quite feeling sorry for ourselves and get tough we could win the game and we finally quite doing that.”
Riggs said his team has gotten better in their two-minute offense.
“I think that is pretty obvious,” he said. “We did a great job of running it and we did a great job down there of doing that. We did a nice job of getting some stops late on defense. I think it was just great that in the last five to six minutes of the game, everybody on both sides was just standing and cheering. That is what it is all about (as he fought back tears). We wanted to play Sweet Water and they were champions.”
T.R. Miller (9-1) jumped out to a 7-0 lead over Sweet Water (8-2) in the first quarter before the Bulldogs scored to tie the game up and added a score in the second quarter to take a 14-7 lead over the Tigers at the half.
After both teams failed to score in the third quarter, Sweet Water grabbed a 21-7 lead with 9:34 left in the game.
Dominique Jackson, who finished with two touchdowns and 189 yards on 16 carries, cut the deficit to 21-14 with 6:43 left to play. From there, Sweet Water went up 27-14 after a 36-yard run, but failed to kick the PAT as they increased their lead to 13.
Johnson added his second touchdown of the night on a 49-yard run as the Tigers cut the lead to 27-21 with 5:57.
After a late defensive stop, the Tigers drove 80 yards for the game-winning score to get the win by one.
T.R. Miller had only 82 total yards of offense in the first half – 47 rushing and 35 passing – but ended up with 317 yards with 219 rushing and 98 passing.
Sweet Water totaled 476 yards of offense with 429 coming on the ground and 49 in the air. Bulldog fullback Marquis Waters finished with 196 yards on 24 carries while Jakoby Aldridge added 187 yards on 21 carries. Jackson led T.R. Miller with 189 yards.
Davis was 8-for-16 with 98 yards and two touchdowns. Kameron Coleman had three catches for 54 yards and one touchdown while Hunt totaled two catches for 24 yards and one touchdown.
“We obviously had a problem stopping them tonight,” Riggs said. “Their big fullback is a tremendous player. Then they threw their No. 2 guy in there and we got tired in the second half. We would turn around and get some momentum with a score then they would turn around and get some when they scored. We just never did quit. We just believed if we could get them stopped and get the ball back, we would have a chance down there. If you don’t have a little character about you or a little toughness about you, you can’t do this. This group, there are a lot of things that we are not very good at. But we do have character and we are tough. We can look like crap for pretty much the whole game, then we make a rush at the end. I am really proud of them. Sweet Water is a great champion. They are going to be champions again, maybe in the future or this year. For us to make a comeback and win against them is pretty special.”
While his defense struggled at times Friday night, Tiger defensive coordinator Chris Baxter was proud of his squad for the late stops.
“It was a total team effort,” he said. “The kicking game made some plays. The offense made some plays in the second half. It was a heck of a tackle on their player on the sideline by Kieon Smith. It pretty much saved the game because it kept it a one-score game. When we knocked the ball down on fourth down to get the ball back to the offense, and they do what they do best and that is score.”
On the final drive, T.R. Miller mixed passing and running to set the game-winning score up.
After Dominique Jackson got the ball to the 9-yard line on a third down play, the Tigers faced a fourth-and-one call with 37.5 seconds left. Davis kept the ball for a 2-yard run to get the first down and was forced to spike the ball with 32.6 seconds left.
On second-and-goal, Davis just missed Hunt for a score to force third-and-goal with 22.1 seconds left. On the second try of the previous play, the duo connected for the score.
“It was a huge win as for being a senior, but it was a win for as a football team,” Davis said. “The team won that game. Not two individuals or three individuals, the team won it. It starts up front with the line. If they don’t block, I don’t have time to throw it and Ryan does not have time to catch it. That is where it starts. I looked out there and I did not like the match up I saw. We made a quick out and it was a given. We ran that same route before and almost had it. I just made the throw and we got the catch and we got it in there.
Hunt said it was great to get the catch on the second play.
“I knew I could get past their player,” he said. “He was up on the line trying to jam me and I knew if I just took three hard steps and got cut inside of him, I knew I could get inside of him and make the play. This gives us a lot of courage heading into the first playoff game. It was a big challenge for us tonight and it just lets us know we could do it. We are ready to go all the way.”
Davis said after losing to rival W.S. Neal last week, it gave them motivation for this week and for the playoffs.
“When you get by Neal … you are always going to remember that and that is the only thing that will get you past that,” Davis said. “I mean it was motivation for us as a team. We had a great week of practice. We are going to keep rolling.”
Riggs said he believes the win over a storied team like Sweet Water gives the Tigers momentum heading into the playoffs next week.
“If it does not, there is something wrong with us,” Riggs said.
The Tigers will host Abbeville in round one next week. Game time is set for 7 p.m.