By Thomas Sellers Jr.
After hugs from his wife, family and some close friends, Munford Coach Nick Markle suddenly broke into a sprint.
Dashing behind the first-year Munford head coach in the soaked turf of Munford Football Stadium Friday night were some of his players. The Cougars were armed with a large orange container of ice water to congratulate Markle on his first win as leaders of the Cougars.
The reason for the celebration was a 28-0 decision over the rival Millington Trojans in the 2016 M&M Bowl.
“It was a battle out there tonight,” Markle said. “Millington came ready. It’s like playing Covington, it’s going to be a brawl. I’m proud of my guys and I’m proud to be their head coach.”
Markle’s Cougars were looking to bounce back after a 13-6 defeat at Covington last week. Meanwhile the Trojans were looking to get on track after a 34-13 loss at Bolton in the opener.
“The kids played hard tonight,” Markle said. “We’ve still got some things to fix. We stall out on three drives in the first half. But our guys are learning. I thought we were night and day compared to last Friday as for clean play.”
The 2016 M&M Bowl, also the Second Annual Armed Forces Game, took place in front of a sellout crowd. The Millington and Munford faithful watched the Cougars use a powerful running attack to run more than 60 plays from scrimmage. Meanwhile the Trojans managed about 20 snaps of offense.
The Cougars featured the running of speedster Chaz Hayes to help control the clock. Munford signal caller Nathan Davenport mixed in a couple of carries behind the Cougar offensive line throughout the night.
Munford was ahead 7-0 at the break after Hayes scored in the first quarter on a 4-yard run at the 8:35 mark. Millington (0-2) played tough defense throughout the first half to force some Cougar punts.
“We had a pretty good defensive scheme and played well,” Millington Head Coach Chris Michael said. “But it’s just a battle with the offense. It doesn’t matter who we line up against, we’re battling ourselves right now just as much as anything. We’re battling decision making across the skill positions. Because of that deficiency it’s putting pressure on what should be our strong point, our offensive line.”
But Munford stuck to the game plan of running in the interior of the field. Early in the third quarter, the Cougars used that strategy to convert two fourth-down and one-yard situations.
The payoff was a Davenport 12-yard touchdown run to make the score 14-0 with 4:41 left in the period.
Munford (1-1) made the score 21-0 early in the fourth quarter when Hayes displayed his running vision. The junior running back took a handoff and started toward his sideline. He broke the line of scrimmage and reversed his field heading toward the pylon for the diving score.
“First of all I want to thank God,” Hayes said. “Second of all, I want to say this wouldn’t be possible without my linemen or my defense for getting back out there on the field.”
Hayes capped off the scoring for the night later in the fourth quarter when he reached the end zone from 10 yards out with 4:03 remaining in the game.
“Coach told us at practice all week, we should be able to run it down their throats every play,” Hayes said. “You can see that on the first drive, we ran the ball on every play.
“I hope we play like this the rest of the season,” he added. “We have to clean up our act a little bit — every team does. But after that I think we played a great game tonight and we’ve got to keep that up.”
Munford ran out the clock and earned victory No. 1 for Head Coach Markle. The Cougars will step into league action next Friday traveling to Wooddale.
Meanwhile the Trojans will take to their home field for the first time in 2016 welcoming Mississippi powerhouse the Hernando Tigers.
Michael noted his freshman quarterback Tommy Clifton displayed better decision making on throws. But the veteran coach said his offense has to become a threat on the perimeter to open things up all over the field. Michael added his skill players must run better routes and catch the ball when it come their way.
“I hope it’s teaching them not to quit first of all,” he said. “Frustration runs high around here with these kids. They have seen success before them. Nothing is going to be given to you. That’s what we tell them, ‘If you want somebody’s respect, you have to go out and earn it.’ You earn it by going out there on the field and executing your assignments and playing as a team of 11. And creating success that way, that’s how you earn respect.
“So hopefully they’ll keep coming to practice and they’ll keep getting better,” Michael continued. “They’ll understand what we’re trying to do. Right now we’ve got way too many mistakes on the offensive side. I want to point it to youth and that’s a lot of it. But at some time, and I know it’s only game two, these guys got to grow up and do things the right way. They just do.”
The win last Friday night marked the Cougars second straight in the series. Markle was a part of the 2015 victory as defensive coordinator. The 2016 win was made sweeter being the man in charge of the show.
“I had all the confidence in our offensive line,” he said. “We’re going to test everybody we play. A lot teams we’re going to play will like to spread it out and throw the ball. That’s just not our thing. We’re going to line up, hit you in the mouth and see what you’ve got. The better team is going to win on a Friday. If we execute and hold onto the football, I like our chances.
“Just beautiful,” Markle concluded. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better. The story was just great. We had to battle. We’ve kind of shot ourselves in the foot. It just shows our kids’ resilience coming out at halftime. Just never really getting their heads down. They knew we were kind of stopping ourselves. They understood if we cleaned things up, we were going to execute.”