By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The night of October 5, 2018 was going to be a memorable night for Millington Trojans Head Coach Chris Michael.
The veteran leader of the gridiron Trojans had the honor of escorting his daughter Camryn Michael during halftime of the 2018 Millington Central High School Homecoming Court. After the junior and other participants left the turf of Mooney Bosewell Field, it was time for her father to get back to business and overcome a 14-7 deficit to the Craigmont Chiefs.
Not only did Michael and the Trojans need to erase the touchdown deficit, but a Millington victory would give it a firm grip on Region 8-4A championship. The Trojans controlled the final two quarters to prevail 28-14 and take sole possession of first place in the league.
“It was extra special for us coaches,” Michael said. “They didn’t give it to us. And we didn’t do enough in the first half to leave ourselves with a lead. They took what they wanted in the first half. We got in our own way in the first half.”
The Chiefs (2-5, 1-1 in Region 8-4A) jumped ahead 6-0 in the first quarter courtesy of a short touchdown run. The TD was set up by a Dedrian Shotwell to Brandon Johnson long passing play.
Millington (3-5, 2-0) grabbed a brief lead midway in the second quarter when Jer’fonzo Smith scored on a 10-yard touchdown run. Prior to the scoring play, Smith amazed the Homecoming crowd with a powerful run carrying several Trojans and Chiefs on his back deep inside Craigmont territory.
Craigmont kept its composure and drove the ball down the field to capture a 14-7 lead before halftime. Shotwell closed out the Chiefs’ drive with a 40-yard connection to Johnson concluding in the end zone. After Shotwell’s conversion run, the Chiefs were ahead by a touchdown at the break.
“I’m not even going to lie, they had us in the first half,” Millington junior quarterback Tommy Clifton acknowledged. “But we just came out to win. It was 21 to zip in the second half — goose egg for them. The execution from practice, all the hard work in the 100-degree weather paid off.”
MCHS senior Briana Taylor received her tiara during halftime. About an hour later, the Trojans were being fitted for a Region championship crown.
Taking on the coaches’ challenge of stopping Craigmont’s first possession in the second half, Millington’s defense gave the ball back to the offense. Led by Clifton, the Trojans marched down the field and capped off the drive with Smith’s second rushing TD of the night.
After the 4-yard score deadlocked the game at 14-14, Millington received an interception from senior Zeb Marvin. Clifton hooked up with speedster Corey Smith late in the third period setting up Jer’fonzo’s third touchdown. Smith’s 5-yard score made the tally 21-14 late in the third quarter.
Millington’s defense was clicking throughout the third and fourth quarters. Before the night concluded, Marvin, Reggie Caldwell and Josh Allred had interceptions.
The defensive line limited the Chiefs running attack and the linebackers led by senior Kyle Lindley cleaned up midrange Craigmont offensive plays.
“It feels amazing,” Lindley said of the victory. “I don’t even know what to say. I’m so proud of the team right now. Especially defense, our defense hasn’t been the best for the past three years. They’re stepping up, D-line, linebackers, secondary, just everybody. Everybody is clicking together.”
While Craigmont was limited offensively, the Trojans ended the scoring with an exclamation point. Smith’s fourth touchdown of the night was a display of determination, natural vision and teamwork.
“What got into me was my brothers in that locker room not giving up,” Smith said. “When we saw 14-7, we didn’t hold our heads down. We held our heads up high like Trojans. We came out here and played football like we are capable of doing. All the glory goes to my team, the Man above and my brother.
“My whole offensive line, my quarterback and him (Kyle),” he continued, “if Tommy doesn’t give me the ball it doesn’t happen. If Kyle isn’t out there blocking, it doesn’t happen. If Caleb didn’t do that crack-back block, it doesn’t happen. If Corey isn’t downfield holding that block hard, if doesn’t happen. All my glory goes to my teammates.”
Smith capped off his special night with a 46-yard touchdown run and gave the Trojans a 28-14 victory. The win was extra special for the three-year starter at quarterback.
From an inexperienced freshman to a shorten sophomore season, Clifton had something prove in 2018. The third generation Trojan wanted to prove he could be the leader of a championship team.
“It just goes to show God doing His work,” he said. “It was a tough freshman year coming in with no experience. Injured last year, so really one year of experience. Coming into this year, we were doing better than the past few years. It shows God. God is the only one carrying us through this season.
“My named is called, even if its second string, I’ll go to the end of the earth and back for my team,” Clifton concluded. “I lay it all out on this field for my team.”
Clifton has played linebacker, long snapper, defensive back and more throughout the season. It had been “next man up” that has put Millington in the driver’s seat to win the 2018 Region championship. If the Trojans beat the East Mustangs Oct. 26 at home, they win the Region 8-4A title outright.
“Everything that we started from January and February, then March and April, all that work that they put in out here in shorts and a T-shirt,” Michael said. “Working and catching routes, working on coverages, all the things they have done, they got no results in the first four or five weeks.
“And that’s hard for a coaching staff and that’s hard for a locker room to deal with,” he continued. “Talking about the believe thing, you keep preaching that, then your results are not showing up. You’re 0-5 or 1-5, those types of things and you’re struggling. That’s not a whole lot about us. We’re doing everything we can everyday to keep them motivated and keep them going.”
Now Millington is motivated headed into its bye week and making one more regular-season road trip to play Bartlett Oct. 19.
The Craigmont win guarantees Millington a home playoff game in November.
Michael said he is glad his player kept believing in order to earn these rewards.
“It takes something inside to keep showing up every Monday and going out there to get better,” he concluded. “Then to believe in what we are doing and what we are teaching. All of that comes to a true realization these last couple of weeks.”