MEMPHIS — Before taking the Kirby Stadium Field Friday night, the Millington Trojans players chanted behind the cheerleaders’ banner dedicated to the memory of Dana Payne.
“Let’s go out and play for Dana,” one player shouted. “Fly high Dana, fly.”
With their arms interlocked, the Millington players walked toward their sideline to start the 2012 season against the Kirby Cougars. Sparked by their defense early and late, the Trojans earned the emotional victory 31-6.
“We had to stick together,” Millington senior Jonathan Patterson said. “We have to be there for one another. We have to give it to our community for sticking by our sides. We’ve just had to be strong for Dana.”
Payne passed away Aug. 21 from his injuries suffered from a tackle during practice. The sophomore was to wear the No. 87 this season. Instead all the late player’s teammates had 87 over their number pasted on their helmets.
No. 40 CJ Harris made the first big play of the year for the Trojans. When the Cougars’ quarterback floated a pass in the air, Harris stepped in and made the interception returning the ball to the end zone.
Brendan Van Emelen split the uprights with the extra point to make the score 7-0 early in the first quarter. The rest of the opening quarter went scoreless despite big runs from Trojan senior running back Antonio Webber.
It wasn’t until under 2 minutes remaining in the first half before Millington visited the end zone. The Trojans were struggling with their new-look offense until quarterback Nick Hunt dropped back and hit Patterson in stride for a 30-yard TD.
“It’s a growing process,” Millington Head Coach Chris Michael said. “The new offense, we knew it was going to be a bumpy road as we went. The kids have to keep fighting. We have enough guys to make plays but we kept making simple mistakes.
“We were dropping snaps,” he continued. “We were missing blitz pickups. All things that are correctable. I’m not overly discouraged. I knew there would be mistakes. Some of the mistakes we had tonight cost us some good yardage and some good plays. We’ve got to get pass that.”
Behind their defense Millington managed to lead 14-0 at the break. The advantage grew to 17-0 in the third quarter when Van Emelen nailed a 24-yard field goal.
With the offense needing a spark players like Tevin Oliver, George Odum, Devante Robinson, Jesse Mangrum, Delvin Williamson and Tyler Forrest continued to lay the big hits.
Patterson was in the act as well attacking the line of scrimmage. He pressured the Kirby quarterback two plays in a row with a tackle for loss and sack.
“Before we came out here, I went to Dana’s locker and touched it,” Patterson said. “I promised him that I was going to get to the QB as many times as I can. I didn’t get as many tackles as I could but I was back there every chance I got.”
The Millington offense took over the ball in good field position. Back up quarterback Alan Moore was in the game in relief of Hunt. Moore made a couple of big runs and even had a tipped pass fall in the hand of lineman Angelo Pirtle for a big gain.
The drive concluded with a Webber 5-yard touchdown run to make the score 24-0. The Trojan offense had a few more flashes of brilliance but turnovers kept Millington from putting more points on the board.
So it was the defense to conclude the scoring for the Trojans on the night. Odum snatched a tipped pass out of the air and raced down the field 76 yards to the end zone to make the score 31-0.
“Offense could use some work,” Patterson acknowledged. “But defense we were good as usual. We’re going to get better as a team. Defense wins games.”
Kirby scored a late touchdown on the third-string. The Trojans used defense to start 1-0 for the season.
“Defense stepped up,” Michael said. “I put a lot on our defense considering the fact that we’ve got a lot of guys returning. They stepped up and made a lot of plays getting us quite a bit of three and outs. They gave that opportunity to the offense to get out there and get in some work.”
Millington will be back at work this Friday for the home opener against the Bartlett Panthers. The Trojan Football family spent the earlier part of the week with the Payne family and friends.
Michael said after attending to family business the Trojans will be ready for the Panthers and starting Region play.
“Coach Brewer and Coach McFadden are going to do a good job over there,” he said. “They’re going to have those guys ready to go. We have to go back to work this week. It’s going to be a little bit of a (tough) week with the other things we have to finish taking care of with Dana and the family.
“We’re going to have a tough preparation week,” Michael concluded. “But it’s going to be all about us. We’re going to prepare for Bartlett but we have to continue to get ourselves healed. We’ve got to continue to grow as a football team and grow as an offense. We have to continue to find depth in our young players.”