By Thomas Sellers Jr.
JACKSON – The mood on the visitor’s sideline of the Liberty Tech Football Stadium seemed laid back the entire night.
Despite taking a 14-7 lead over the Liberty Tech Crusaders early Friday night, the Millington Trojans still appeared to be sleepwalking through the game. Maybe it was the hour bus ride to Jackson or the Fall Break changing the Trojans’ routine.
But whatever the reason, the Millington players didn’t have enough spunk to overcome their sluggish play losing 26-14.
“Nothing ever worked,” Millington Head Coach Chris Michael acknowledged. “We got on the field and we were flat. We talked to them about playing a good football team. And it’s on me. Mentally they weren’t here tonight.
“You can’t go into any game and approach it not mentally into the game,” he added. “We’ve got to try something different because coaching it and preaching throughout the week ain’t getting it done. It’s progressively gotten worse with the mental part of the game.”
Michael said the Crusaders didn’t surprise his squad after a solid week of prep for his Trojans on defense and offense. The difference was execution and desire.
“Not one thing that they do, we didn’t not practice for or prepare defensively and offensively,” he said. “We got dominated on the offensive line. We missed tackles on the defensive side of the ball. We blew responsibilities.
“All I can say, that goes back on us,” Michael continued. “We’ve got to find some guys who will do it the way we want it to be done and make the plays that are there to be made. Because right now we’re going backwards and it’s pretty frustrating.”
Millington’s defense was moved backwards down the field in just 2 minutes and 19 seconds of the first quarter. Crusader Devin Brown finished off a Liberty drive in less than 3 minutes with a 37-yard touchdown run that made the score 7-0.
The Trojans had an answer driving down the field. Dante Pitts was on the receiving end of an Eldon Tyms screen pass for 15 yards to the 8-yard line. A couple of plays later LaKeron Garcia took the ball into the end zone from 9 yards out to tie the game.
Early in the second quarter the Trojans (5-3) took the lead 14-7 when Tyms finished off a Millington drive with a one-yard burst into the end zone.
The Crusaders trimmed the Millington advantage to one point before halftime with another Brown score, this time from the shorter distance of 1-yard.
In the third quarter Liberty regained the lead on a touchdown run from its quarterback to make the score 20-14.
The Trojans couldn’t manage much on offense in the fourth quarter. And the Crusader defensive line started to win the battle on the line of scrimmage. Then the Liberty offense marched the ball down the field eating up the clock leading to Brown’s third TD of the night with a minute and 37 seconds remaining.
A couple of Liberty sacks ended any chance of a Trojan comeback. Michael acknowledged in crunch time, his players didn’t provide the on-the-field leadership.
“Mentally we’ve been a fragile team all season,” he said. “We don’t have kids stepping up being leaders like they should be. We have a huge immaturity level that we’re dealing with across the board. We’re not getting the leadership from our seniors or underclassmen like we need to. We’ve tried and tried and tried to push those guys to do the things they need to do from a leadership role.
“They just whip us,” Michael added. “We were just not there for four quarters. We missed tackles. We didn’t block well.’
Millington will try to bounce back this Friday hosting the Arlington Tigers. First place in District 14-3A is on the line and a possible No. 1 seed in the upcoming TSSAA playoffs. The Tigers are coming to Millington after suffering a defeat to the White Station Spartans.
Both teams should be motivated after losses and primed to win the district championship. Michael said he hopes his players will be focused on that goal.
“I’ve been trying to figure them out,” he said, “trying to figure out what makes them tick, trying to figure out when their mind is where it needs to be and when it’s not. It’s a crapshoot. We’re going to have to work hard as a staff to prepare them again this week.
“They know what we do,” Michael concluded. “And we know what they do. And our kids know each other. Everybody knows. But the mentality of how you approach it and show up on Friday night after you put your work week in has to be the same as it was when you put in the work.”