Posted on September 29, 2016.
Giving up 40 points to the high-powered Ridgeway Roadrunners on Sept.16 in the first quarter might have been the lowest point for the 2016 Millington Trojans.
Deject on the turf of Halle Stadium, the Trojan players listened to the compassion of their coaches in the post-game huddle. Head Coach Chris Michael challenged his young men to put the 60-6 defeat to Ridgeway behind them and avoid the distractions of Homecoming Week.
Michael expressed in his players how much he believes in him and how the Trojans had a circle of supporters who have their backs. With that encouragement, Millington took the field Friday night against the Kirby Cougars ready to cap off Homecoming with a victory.
And when Millington freshman quarterback Tommy Clifton found teammate Shamal Macklin for a 3-yard touchdown catch, the Trojans were 27-20 victors.
“It feels good for us a coaching staff because those first five weeks, we’re in that coaching office and they’re in that locker room,” Michael recalled. “We were trying to figure out how we were going to get them through it. Those first five games were a gauntlet for a young team.
“We played a bunch of really good football teams,” he continued. “It’s hardest thing to do as a coach to keep kids in that kind of situation motivated and to keep striving. To tell them it’s going to turn around, there is light at the end of the tunnel. To see them come out tonight and get that monkey off their backs against a pretty good and talented team was the most gratifying thing.”
Trojan place kicker Stephen Carter drilling the extra point went a long way toward the Trojans feeling that gratification. With less than 2 minutes remaining in the contest, Kirby had to score a touchdown to tied the game and force overtime.
The Trojan defense locked down. When Millington’s Kaison Higdon batted down a Kirby pass with less than a minute remaining,
Clifton took to the field to run the victory formation. And wearing the jerseys made famous by the regular season unbeaten 2007 and 2008 squads, Clifton had his first victory as Trojan quarterback 27-20.
“I’m speechless right now,” Clifton said. “The first half we were down and they thought they had us. They came out during their Cougar Jacks. We went into halftime and didn’t say a word. We got our minds right and came out and fought the fight. We just came out not too confident. We just executed and I’m just thankful.’
Clifton has been a part of the Millington Football family since birth. His grandfather Tommy Sr. has been a longtime coach and his father Tommy Jr., was a member of the 1991 undefeated Trojan team.
When Clifton was a ball boy for the Trojans in the 2000s, he watched Randon Fryerson quarterback Millington in the uniform the team decided to wear for Homecoming 2016. And Clifton’s first pass in the jersey was memorable finding receiver Dayan Miller for an 84-yard score.
Miller caught the ball in stride and used his track speed to outrun the Cougars to the end zone for the 7-0 lead.
The picture-perfect pass play added to the confidence of Clifton. Enduring a 0-5 start to his varsity career, Clifton said his teammates played a huge part in his maturing process.
“They motivated me at practices and during the games,” he said. “If I made a bad throw or made a bad read, I would get down on myself. They would come over and shake my hand and tell me to keep my head up. They were there.”
Kirby tied the game later in the first quarter with a touchdown pass. The Cougars were ahead 13-7 at the break after a big play of their own — an 87 yard TD pass.
The Trojans regrouped at halftime as the school celebrated the Homecoming victory of senior Gabby Meyer. The football team gave the Millington faithful more reason to celebrate when Clifton scored on a 4-yard run to regain the lead at 14-13.
Millington’s lead grew to 20-13 in the fourth quarter when Justin Coleman capped off a drive with a 1-yard TD run.
The Cougars answered a couple of minutes later with a 31-yard run by the quarterback. The score was deadlock at 20-20.
The Trojans’ spirit didn’t have enough to break when senior D’Monte Kemp field the kickoff and raced 66 yards to the 9 yard line.
“It’s always a blessing from Above,” Kemp said. “It’s just me doing what I can to help us win, me just toughing it up. My players were blocking great and I’m just grateful for that.
“It’s always an honor to be that guy they go to,” he added. “I just do everything I can that we need. I’ve fought and scratched to try as hard as I can to come out with a win. I just want to thank them for loving on me and supporting me as much as they can.”
A few plays later Clifton threw the game-winning pass to Macklin.
“Best feeling ever,” Clifton said. “I’ve never felt anything like that. There is so much adrenaline pumping through me right now.”
While Clifton was pumped, Michael had the look of a proud coach as his players celebrated with classmates to conclude Homecoming 2016.
“They kept they attitude right and their effort high the whole game,” he noted. “We got back to just trying to do what we do in our scheme. I think in some of the previous weeks, I think because we felt we were a little outmanned, we out coached ourselves.
“Instead of letting our kids get out there and do what they know in games,” Michael added. “We were simple tonight in our defensive schemes although we were minus Sam (Stanifer). We knew coming into the season we would have to run the ball. It was a challenge against all the big fronts. But we felt we matched up well with the front of Kirby.”
Behind their offensive line, the Trojans gave the Cougars a steady dose of Gabe Christopher, Robert Head and Justin Coleman. The trio of running back controlled the tempo in the second half.
With the Trojans having success pounding the ball through the middle of the field, the Cougars were expecting another run play at the 3-yard line with the game tied at 20-20.
“They had more than we could block in there,” Michael noted. “And since we were near the 6-yard line, we had 5 or 6 yards to cover down there. With them blitzing both edges and both A-gaps, there was no way we were going to be able to get that ball in there with any of our run plays.
“So we talked about it on the sideline. We felt pretty good we would get Shamal off the edge because their outside blitz was going to run right past him,” he added. “And they had to execute and both Shamal and Tommy executed the play. No matter what you call, they still have to execute.”
The Trojans look to make it two wins a in row traveling to Melrose Stadium next Friday to take on league rival Kingsbury. The kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“We’ve just got to stay humble and ready to come back to it,” Kemp concluded. “Like Coach says, ‘We have to keep coming to work and it will pay off someday.’”