By Thomas Sellers Jr.
And what follows next is ‘defense wins championships.’ But in football, the third variable of special teams can cancel out the other two phases of the game and determine the outcome.
Friday in Millington on the chopped up turf of Mooney Bosewell Field, the host Millington Trojans found out the hard way how important special teams can be.
The Ripley Tigers benefitted from a couple of Millington errors in that phase of the game to win the First Round TSSAA Class 4A playoff game 31-21.
“Things started off real well and we got off to a good start like we wanted to,” Millington Head Coach Chris Michael said. “We knew they would be able to score some points. But we needed to try to make sure they earned their points with long drives and having to execute to be consistent on their drives. That’s hard to do in high school.”
The Trojans (4-7) had a nice drive in the opening moments of the game going 59 yards to paydirt. Millington capped off the 2 minute and 2 second possession with a Tommy Clifton to Devin Knight 9-yard touchdown pass to make the score 7-0.
The Tigers (4-7) drove the field 67 yards on their first drive to score courtesy of a Corterrion Moore 15-yard run. With the score deadlock at 7-7 with 5 minutes and 43 seconds remaining in the first quarter, momentum swung fully to the side of Ripley.
“We missed some tackles early and we had those turnover early,” Michael said. “We had two turnovers on special teams. The fumble on the kickoff they recovered. And that fake punted on us, with both of them leading to touchdowns.”
Ripley employed a short, pooch kickoff all night long. After the Moore score, the Tigers used the kick to catch the Trojans off guard. Millington’s fumble was recovered the Tigers on the 38 yard line.
The Trojan defense tried to force the Tigers back with a Clifton quarterback sack leaving the Tigers in a fourth down and 19 yards to go situation.
The Tigers has a trick up their sleeves with a fake punt picking up the first down a on a long pass play.
“I guess we just got caught up in the moment watching the football and we let the guy go,” Michael recalled. “He had somebody assignment to him but he just got downfield open. Those are the types of mistakes that are the difference in these games. It was a 10-point game and there were two scores in there that shouldn’t have occurred.”
Moore made the Trojans pay with a 25-yard touchdown run that made the score 14-7. Moore added another TD in the second quarter from 5-yard out giving Ripley a 21-7 halftime advantage.
Millington made halftime adjustments and fought back with a long scoring drive in the third quarter. As the rain started to pour from the sky, the Trojans were eating up chunks of the field with pass plays and Jer’fonzo Smith runs.
Clifton capped off the Trojan drive with a 4-yard touchdown run and made the tally 21-14.
Then Moore took another handoff at the 38-yard line for the Tigers.
“That was a back breaker because we had gain some of the momentum back,” Michael said of Moore’s 62-yard touchdown run. “We were getting ready to hopefully make a stop there. Their kid made a great play there but we missed a lot of tackles. You cant’ make mistakes.
“In the postseason you’ve got to be clean,” he added. “You’ve got to have some breaks and we didn’t have many. We were definitely on the negative of the plenty side. We were upside on the plenty but it was really those two early turnovers that got us behind the eight ball.”
Moore’s long touchdown run made the score 28-14. Ripley added a 33-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter making the tally 31-14.
The final touchdown of the game came courtesy of Clifton. The junior signal caller scored on a 10-yard run to make the final 31-21.
The 2018 Region 8-4A champions turnaround season came to an end. Meanwhile the Tigers advance to take on the Haywood Tomcats next Friday. Haywood defeated Fayette-Ware 35-0.
Michael said his team turned a corner and has a lot of momentum for the future. He gives credit to the seniors Eddie Macklin, Corey Smith, Zeb Marvin, Josh Allred, Jer’fonzo Smith, Johnny Mattox, Cameron Bryant, Kyle Lindley, Kaleb Macklin, Jordan White and Josh Harris.
“It goes back to the first day we were at camp and the season actually started,” Michael said. “The offseason was good work and we had some new guys come in. We had to fit all the pieces together but what it all boiled down to was believing.
“The right kind of belief,” he continued. “Your belief had to be based on your work and what you put in that would allow you to believe you could accomplish. Not just walking up saying ‘I can do it.’ That’s fake belief. They bought into that and worked all the time trying to get better.”
Michael said playing St. Benedict tough was a sign. A couple of bad defensive quarters cost the Trojans in Munford and the Raleigh-Egypt game was a thriller on the road.
“This year based on their work and belief and them showing up, they all in those games they believed,” Michael concluded. “Although the score didn’t show it, we had opportunities and we competed. That was such a great accomplishment for that senior class to get pass those hurdles winning the most important games and being in it in those we didn’t have a shot to win last year.”