By Thomas Sellers Jr.
BARTLETT — The roller coaster rides of the Bartlett Panthers and Millington Trojans transformed the Bartlett Football Stadium into an amusement park Friday night.
While the Trojans entered on an upswing after winning two games and locking up the Region 8-4A championship, the Panthers were at a level point still adjusting to the Ty McNeal Era after a 14-0 win over MAHS.
After the two Shelby County foes clashed, it was Bartlett heading upward with a 27-7 victory over the Trojans.
“We were hoping we just play solid defensive football,” Bartlett Head Coach Tim Haney said. “We were hoping that that would be enough. And our guys stepped up to the challenge. We challenged them this week because they are very explosive. The touchdown that they scored was a quick hitter. ‘We told you.’ Then we played solid the rest of the night and did a great job.”
Bartlett (4-4) was first in line to score when Robert Giaimo capped off a long Panther drive with a 6-yard touchdown run.
The Panthers were ahead 7-0 after one quarter. The Bartlett advantage grew to 13-0 early in the second period when new Panther starting quarterback Ty McNeal dropped back and connected with Tamarious Brown for a 20-yard TD. Bartlett was ahead 13-0 with 9 minutes and 44 seconds left in the first half.
“We got handled at the line of scrimmage on offense in the first half,” Millington Head Coach Chris Michael said. “We didn’t move them all night long. Their five dudes stayed there and made plays all night long. That was just them being better than us. We just got dominated in the first half on the line of scrimmage.”
The Trojans (3-6) broke Bartlett’s dominance for a moment when Millington quarterback Tommy Clifton hit receiver Eddie Macklin on a quick slant. Macklin eluded a couple of Panther tacklers and raced 80 yards to pay dirt to make the tally 13-7. That was the tally at halftime.
Bartlett seized control of the game early in the second half when McNeal directed a three-play, 68-yard drive. Just 51 seconds into the third quarter McNeal hit Brown once again for a touchdown reception. The 16-yard TD connection made the score 20-7.
“He’s getting better,” Haney said of McNeal. “This is his first season to really play. And he’s only a sophomore. He’s going to get better. He’s getting better every week.”
McNeal continued to display his progression leading the Panthers down the field in the fourth quarter for the final score of the night. McNeal handed the ball to Melvin Turnage for an 8-yard TD run to make the final 27-7.
“We had turnovers like snaps over our head,” Michael noted. “The one time we crossed the 50, we snapped it over our quarterback’s head 30 yards back and turned it right back over to them.”
The third quarter was a seesaw of missed Bartlett field goals and Millington turnovers. Mixing in a few punts, the slippery ride between the Panthers and Trojans came to a conclusion in a light rain.
Now both teams look to gain momentum in their regular season finales. The Trojans know their ride will continue into November.
Millington takes on the East Mustangs for Senior Night this Friday at Mooney Bosewell Field. The Trojans will finish first in the Region but look to win the league outright.
“They’ve got no reason to have their chest stuck out like they’ve done something,” Michael said after the Bartlett defeat. “Tonight was a bad performance. It was against a team they could compete with and that they should have competed better than they did against. It shouldn’t be a problem this week getting ready with it being the seniors’ last home regular season game. Their chance to close out the Region unbeaten, that should be special to them.”
Meanwhile the Panthers need a little help to reach the postseason out of Region 7-6A. Bartlett travels to play the Cordova Wolves in the 2018 regular season finale.
“Just control what we can control,” Haney concluded. “We have to win and have some help to make the playoffs. We don’t have control over any of that. So we’ve just got to control our game plan against Cordova and be solid. We have to cut out our turnovers and penalties. That shot us in the foot tonight.”
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