By Thomas Sellers Jr.
PARIS, Tenn. — A microcosm of the 2014 Millington Trojans’ season played itself out in Patriot Stadium Friday night.
Injuries, untimely flags and bad breaks plagued the Trojans against the reigning Class 5A champion Henry County Patriots all night. The Patriots took advantage of Millington miscues and a pair of safeties to prevail 26-16. Henry County advances to the 2014 Class 5A Quarterfinals this upcoming Friday to play No. 1 seeded the Ridgeway Roadrunners in Memphis.
“I’m proud of them,” Millington Head Coach Chris Michael said of his team. “They fought through a bunch of stuff this year. We just seem like we’ve been snake bitten with injuries. It hit us in this game in all different areas. But our kids just kept running onto the field, next man up, playing positions they haven’t played all year. They just kept fighting. The defense kept getting the ball back for our offense.”
Early in Friday night’s Second Round contest, it appeared the Trojans (8-4) had a shot at advancing jumping out 6-0 in the second quarter when Eldon Tyms hit wide receiver Kip Fleming for a touchdown pass.
Millington needed the boost after standout linebacker Patrick Macon went to the sideline with 3 minutes and 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Trojans’ first score came with 10 minutes and 12 seconds left in the second quarter. The Patriots’ first drive without Macon on the field produced a long march setting up a Chris Henderson 5-yard TD run to tie the game at 6-6.
Henry County (10-2) took the lead at 12-6 late in the first half when quarterback Jake Croasmun capped off another Patriot drive with an 1-yard sneak. The Patriots led 14-6 at halftime after Millington suffered another injury to center Chance Taylor.
Millington’s back-up center ended up snapping the ball over Tyms’ head and out of the end zone giving Henry County two extra points. The Patriots’ advantage grew in the third quarter with another short touchdown run to cap off a drive. Macon tried to play on his ankle but couldn’t bare the pain. His backup was offensive line Josh Taylor. Once Taylor settled into his role as an outside linebacker, moving Dante Pitts to middle backer, the Trojans neutralized the Patriots with the score 21-6. Henry County got a couple of big defensive plays in the third quarter with interceptions from Evan Harrison and Cody Hunter. The last pick from Hunter set up a field goal making the tally 24-6.
The Trojans fought back in the fourth quarter when Tyms hit running back Justin Coleman for a 49-yard gain on a screen pass. The big play set up a Luke Bell 30-yard field goal to make the score 24-9.
A few minutes later the field possession swung in favor of the Patriots when the Trojans had the ball on their own 8-yard line. A swing pass from Tyms to Fleming caught near the end zone resulted in a tackle for loss behind the goal line giving Henry County another safety. The final score of the night came courtesy of Millington’s back-up quarterback Sam Stanifer. Responsible for several big plays all year, Artavious Thomas was on the receiving end of Stanifer’s quick pass from the 20-yard line. Thomas used his speed and blocks from teammates to race 80 yards to the end zone to make the score 26-16 with 4 minutes and 13 seconds left.
But the Trojans didn’t have enough firepower left, with Tyms hobbled and too many injures on the offensive line.
“Eldon got dinged up again, fighting through injuries,” Michael said. “(Henry County) was a great football team. They haven’t won all these State championship for no reason. So you’re up against a tough task when you come into an environment like this against a tough team like this.
“I’m just proud of the effort they played with tonight and the heart they showed,” he added. “They fought all the way until the end and never got down despite teammates injured and breaks going against them. I’m extremely proud of them.”
Henry County are owners of the 2011 and 2013 Class 5A State titles. They advance to take on the this year’s favorite in Ridgeway.
The Trojans end the 2014 campaign with an 8-4 record. The appearance in the Second Round is the second for the Class of 2015. As freshmen some were apart of the 2011 District 14-3A championship team.
Last season that group helped Millington reach the playoffs hosting the East Mustangs. This year’s group of Trojan seniors will be remembered for honoring their fallen classmate No. 87 Dana Payne and always making the playoffs.
“We always tell them, ‘Leave it better than you’ve found it,’” Michael said. “This group came in and has been through some up and down seasons and tough things. This is the best season we’ve had since 2011when we went 9-1. This team advanced further and performed better than that team. I’m just extremely proud of them taking us to the next level.
“To where you can come into a place like this and those guys know they were in a dog fight,” he concluded. “They had to come out and execute. It shows we’ve come a long ways and this senior group has a lot to do with it. They’re responsible for the heart and leadership this team displayed every Friday night on the football field.