By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The District 14-3A showdown in Millington lived up to the hype and surpassed exceptions.
In typical Arlington Tigers vs. Millington Trojans fashion, the game came down to a kick. In recent years both teams have celebrated and made field goals on the final play to win the game and the league championship.
This year’s edition of the game, a blocked kick put the Tigers in position to win the 2013 District 14-3A championship. When three Arlington defenders broke the Millington line with 23 seconds left on the clock to block a Luke Bell point-after attempt, the Tigers had a 38-37 victory.
“Our guys played great,” Arlington Head Coach Chris Wiley said. “I’m kicking myself because I went for it down there on the 40 and we didn’t get it. We kind of set them up in position to tie the ball game. That was a mistake. I already told them that almost cost us. I’m definitely going to be accountable for that just like I told the guys there.
“They even fought through my mistakes,” he continued. “And that’s the sign of a really good football team. I made a big mistake that almost cost them the football game and they even overcame that. I’m proud of these seniors.”
Ahead 31-24, Wiley made the decision to try to keep an Arlington drive alive midway through the fourth quarter by going for the first down. But Trojan linebacker Thomas Norphlet was able to make the stop on fourth down leaving the Tigers short at the 37-yard line.
Millington tied the game at 31-31. But a kickoff return from Arlington speedster Joseph Stevenson saved the day. Stevenson’s 86-yard return to the end zone gave the lead back to Arlington.
“I was excited,” Arlington quarterback Hunter Sheffield said. “But the main thing I was trying to keep everybody off the field. The first feeling was excitement. Joe is just a great running back. We changed our kick return thing a little bit. The wedge just worked perfectly. He just busted it and showed that speed he has.”
The Trojans only trailing by one score got the touchdown they needed. But the extra point was blocked and Arlington left the Millington Football Stadium still unbeaten in District 14-3A play.
The Tigers (7-2, 4-0 in District 14-3A) will play the Cordova Wolves (5-3, 3-1) on Nov. 1 for a chance at the outright league title.
“We’re not No. 1 yet,” Wiley noted. “We have to play Cordova the last game of the year. Cordova only has one loss in the district. So it’s still going to come down to us and Cordova.
If we didn’t win this, there was no way we could have won the district. So we had to win out. We have a bye week next week. That’s just what we needed because we’re banged up and beaten up especially this time of the year.”
The one-point defeat to Arlington left the Millington Trojans 5-4 overall and 3-1 in league play. The Trojans will return to action after a bye week on Nov. 1 for Senior Night against the Bolton Wildcats.
If Millington was victorious over Arlington Friday night, the Trojans would have been the champions of the district. And early in the contest it appeared Millington was on pace to do that taking a 14-7 lead.
After Arlington jumped ahead 7-0 courtesy of a Sheffield to Tyler Flack 19-yard touchdown pass. Millington tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter when senior running back LaKeron Garcia capped off a Trojan drive with a 4-yard TD run.
The Trojans took the lead when Demarius Curry caught a 15-yard pass from quarterback Eldon Tyms early in the second quarter.
The Tigers wrapped up the first half scoring twice in the final two minutes. Sheffield tied the game on a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line.
After a Millington fumble on the kickoff, the Tigers took over on the 27-yard with a minute and 25 seconds left in the half. Sheffield made the Trojans pay dropping back to locate Flack again. This time for a 28-yard TD pass and Arlington was ahead 21-14 at the break.
Millington cut into the deficit early in the third quarter with a Luke Bell 33-yard field goal. The Tigers answered back with a Cameron Durley 33-yard field goal to make the score 24-17 in favor of Arlington.
The fourth quarter saw 34 point from both teams. Joseph Stevenson got the scoring started in the final quarter with a 9-yard run that gave Arlington a 31-17 lead.
Just when it appeared the Tigers gave the Trojans a knockout blow, Millington answered in a big way. Tyms dropped back and threw a rainbow into the hands of Curry for a 58-yard touchdown to make the tally 31-24.
After the Trojan defense held the Tigers, Millington took over and Curry made another big catch this time leaping to make a grab at the 8-yard line. A few plays later the Trojans tied the game at 31-31 with a 1-yard run on fourth and goal.
“They responded and they did what we asked them to do in the second half,” Millington Head Coach Chris Michael said. “They got back into the game. They gave themselves a chance to get in there and win it. They showed a lot of heart and courage to stay in it. I’m just at a loss at how to pressure upon these young men how important the little things are. Sometimes you think they get it, and the little things get you again.”
It was the little things on special teams that would doom the Trojans in the final 6 minutes and 11 seconds. The Trojans kicked the ball to Stevenson.
Following his blocker, Stevenson exploded through the wedge and was gone to the end zone from 86 yards to make the score 38-31 in favor of the Tigers.
Millington had one more chance to tie the game with 5 minutes and 58 second left in the contest. The Trojans used the running of Tyms and Garcia to march the ball deep into Arlington territory. Facing fourth down from the 2-yard line, the Trojans handed the ball to Garcia and the senior running back reached pay-dirt to make the score 38-37.
The Millington faithful went from jubilation to sorrow in seconds when the extra point was blocked. The blocked echoed through the Millington Football Stadium leading to the Arlington sideline erupting into a full celebration.
“We both played a great game,” Sheffield said. “Give credit to Millington, they fought hard just like we did. We just happen to come out on top. We got a few breaks here and there. We had a few mental errors there. But we needed that bounce back win from White Station. We showed everybody we can bounce back and got this big win.”
Now the Trojans have to focus on closing out the 2013 regular season on a winning note and trying to improve their standing for the TSSAA playoffs.
“We’re still planning on getting into that postseason,” Michael said. “We’ve got to defend our homefield one more time against Bolton. We’re batting .500 over here. We have to get this last one bad and then let the chips fall where they may fall. We will try to get ready for the first round of the postseason.
“We have to have this win,” he concluded. “We can’t go into the postseason with three loses in a row to finish the season. But these kids are going to have to respond in practice and to the coaching they get during the week.”
Both teams have a bye this Friday and will return to district action Nov. 1 to close out the regular season. The Trojans will kickoff at 7 p.m. at home against Bolton. The Tigers travel to Cordova that night trying to remain the only undefeated team in district play.
“We approach every game the same,” Sheffield concluded. “We come with the mindset of just to beat everybody down and blow them off the field.”