By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Throughout Friday night, several players, coaches and spectators witnessed a white dove circling the Millington Football Stadium.
With storm clouds gathering throughout the night, the Bartlett Panthers/Millington Trojans football game was played the entire time on a dry field. And dedicating their first home game of 2012 to their late teammate Dana Payne, the Trojans were victorious 35-14.
Payne passed away Aug. 21 during a practice when he was tackled on a play. The injuries he suffered lead to his heart stopping. Since that moment, the nation and area teams in the Mid-South have poured their hearts out to the Millington Trojans.
Before kickoff Friday night, the Panther players presented the Trojans with “DP” wristbands. And the Panther cheerleaders joined hands with Millington making a circle around the football field for a prayer in honor of Dana.
“Dana was here for us the entire night,” Trojan running back Antonio Webber said. “I love that my brother Dana was there for us the whole night. We really needed him tonight. It was a special night to have him here.”
Some spectators said the white dove flying over the field was released at Payne’s burial site Aug. 28. And they believed the bird represented Dana.
From it’s view in the sky, the bird watched the Trojans take a 7-0 lead. The score was set up when Millington defensive back Tevin Oliver picked off a pass at the 49-yard line.
Two plays later, Webber took a handoff from quarterback Nick Hunt and found open space toward the Trojan sideline for a 47-yard TD run.
Leading 7-0 heading into the second quarter, Millington doubled its lead when Oliver caught a pass intended for him. Hunt zipped a pass to Oliver for a 14-yard touchdown making the score 14-0.
On the kickoff, Bartlett got ideal field position when Tony Jackson returned the ball to the 15-yard line after picking up 72 yards. A few plays later the Panthers where on the scoreboard when Josh Hall scored on a 9-yard run to make the tally 14-6.
Minutes later Bartlett had a chance to tie the game recovering a fumble on the 30-yard line. The Trojan defense kept the Panthers from tying the contest when Johnathan Patterson sacked the Bartlett quarterback.
On the Trojans’ next offensive possession, Webber went back to work this time as a receiver. The senior speedster caught a swing pass and was barely touched on his way to the end zone from 71 yards out.
“Being a senior leader, you have to do thing you don’t even think you can do,” Webber said. “You have to put that motivation in yourself to keep pushing along. Tonight was another example of Unbreakable Brotherhood.
“We came together and pulled together,” he added. “They stopped us sometimes, we fumbled the ball, but our defense did a good job of stopping them. I’m proud of them.”
Before halftime the Millington offense added to the 21-6 lead when Hunt dropped back and found receiver Myron Threlkeld down field with a pass. Threlkeld avoided one tackler and raced to the end zone for a 41-yard score.
Coming out the locker room down 28-6, the Panther kept plugging away at the Trojans in the third quarter. Late in the period the Panthers cut the deficit to 14 points when Robert Wingo crossed the goal line from 6 yards out. Full back Demarius Cason caught the two-point conversion to make the score 28-14.
The Bartlett scoring drive was set up by a turnover. Panthers Head Coach Brian Brewer said that was a positive sign for his team after seeing miss opportunities earlier in the night and in Week 1 against St. Benedict.
“That’s something we’re trying to get better with, with our group,” he said. “We’re young and we’re learning how to capitalize on other team’s mistakes. This game, we didn’t make as many mistakes.
“That’s a definite improvement for us,” Brewer continued. “We didn’t beat ourselves like we did last week. I’m very proud of how they came out in the second half and put some points on the board and showed we have some character.”
Millington offense was out to prove it’s character and ice the game in the fourth quarter. Hunt did just that when he hooked up with wide receiver Chris “Pokey” Sanders for a 4-yard touchdown. Sanders headed to the corner of the end zone and caught a fade route pass for the final score of the night.
Millington improved to 2-0 on the season and will travel to Munford for the annual M&M Bowl this Friday night.
The Panthers dropped to 0-2 and look to get into the win column when they welcome the Houston Mustangs to Tree City.
“We can be competitive against Houston,” Brewer said. “We get a little bit better on defense, our younger players get more experience and get better, we’ll improve. It’s just a learning process when you’ve got a lot of sophomores on the field. It takes some time.”
It will take time for the Trojans to get over their heartache of losing a teammate. Webber said the rain holding off, the white dove and the love shown by the Bartlett community prove Dana’s memory will live on.
“Dana was definitely here all night,” he said. “He wanted us to play this game. We felt it in our hearts he really wanted us to play this game because he loved the game of football.
“He wants us to keep going and pushing on so we can remember him forever and forever,” Webber concluded. “We’re going to always remember Dana Payne.”