By Thomas Sellers Jr.
JACKSON — In this age of instant news and sharing information with seconds via social media, the Millington Trojan Football players were still trying to grasp the moment around 9:30 p.m. on the field of the Liberty Tech Crusaders.
As Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat was sharing the details of the Trojans’ 20-0 victory over the Liberty Crusaders to start the 2019 season, some of the key contributors in the win took a moment to reflect on the journey to Week 1.
“Great start to the senior year with all my guys around me,” Millington senior quarterback Tommy Clifton said. “I am so proud of them with all the hard work we’ve been putting in with 6 a.m., 6 p.m. workouts leads up this moment. We still have a whole lot of room to improve.”
But the senior leader was joined by his teammates and coaches in enjoying the 1-0 start beating a quality opponent in the Crusaders on the road.
“ They’ve got size and they’ve got the numbers,” Trojan linebacker Hunter Lucas said. “But we’ve got the heart. We came in here tonight with the will to win.”
Lucas and crew held Liberty scoreless and forced multiple turnovers throughout the night. It was an interception by Millington’s Reggie Caldwell that set up the first Trojan touchdown of 2019.
The Trojans forced a Liberty fumble in the opening quarter to keep things scoreless. Millington’s second turnover was created early in the second period. Moments later came the Caldwell pick in the end zone stopping a Crusader scoring opportunity.
The Trojans took over at the 20-yard line and moved the ball to the 27 moments later. Then Clifton executed the read option to perfection finding a hole and exploding upfield for a 73-yard touchdown run to make the score 7-0.
Millington was ahead 13-0 at the break when Clifton used his arm to locate teammate Adrian “Bug” Dowell on a quick slant. Dowell made a couple of Liberty defenders miss and raced to the end zone for the touchdown.
“It was tough sledding in there tonight because they’re so big, fast and athletic,” Millington Head Coach Chris Michael said of Liberty. “They had seven in the box. We couldn’t get seven out of the box no matter what we did. No matter what formation we did, they kept seven in the box. So a lot of credit to the line that kept grinding.
“Coach Garcia, Tommy and them kept using misdirection to create a few seams,” he added. “It was the small little things we were able to exploit to get those scores. Tommy saw that seam come open and was able to put the ball on his back shoulder. Bug split a tackle and was able to make a play out of that. We’ve got to get better pass protection. We’ve got to give Tommy more time to throw.”
For insurance the Trojans went back to using Clifton’s legs as a weapon. After Liberty muffed a punt, Millington recovered the ball in Crusader territory.
A few plays later, Clifton headed up field on a quarterback keeper. He was met by a few Liberty defenders at the line of scrimmage. Clifton was able to escape and even was facing the opposite side of the field at one point before breaking loose. He raced toward the end zone and dived for the pylon scoring on the 21-yard run to make the tally 20-0.
The Trojans defense held that advantage until the final whistle. Junior linebacker Devon Knight said the bus ride back home to Millington was made sweeter with the victory.
“Not only does it sound good to be 1-0, but it feels good,” he declared. “The key for us tonight was communicating and everybody keeping their heads and just playing together.”
Michael said leaving Jackson with a victory was a tall order with so many unknowns entering the game.
“They were a challenge,” he said. “We’ve got new people on our schedule this year and we don’t know a lot about them. We get very little film early. So we watched them. They’re very talented, got a lot of size and a lot of speed.
“We just had to be as sounded as we could be in our responsibilities,” he added. “We had to get them lined up in positions to be prepared for the plays they were going to attack us with. For the most part we did a good job. But we still had a lot of struggles with getting ourselves lined up properly.”
Millington had room for improvement leaving Jackson after a few turnovers and giving up some big plays to the Crusaders.
“We were giving up some plays we didn’t want to give up, but we still got a goose egg,” Michael said. “We still have a lot of room to improve because we had a lot of mistakes lining up. We were fortunate we hustled to the ball and got some turnovers. We got a couple of fumbles in there and a pick. We were really active on defense. But we’ve got to clean it up. We’ve got to get more bodies rotating. We need to get some more people coached up so we can create depth.”
Depth will be needed next Friday with the M&M Bowl on the schedule. The Trojans open up a five game home stretch with the visiting Munford Cougars coming to Mooney Bosewell Stadium. The Cougars will be looking to bounce back after opening the season with a 35-0 loss to the rival Covington Chargers.
“They are big and they’ve been big the past four or five years,” Michael said of Munford. “They have outsized us across that interior line. So we have to be able to play behind our pads and below their pad level. It’s three yards and a cloud of dust with them. We have to be able to win early downs. We have to put them in uncomfortable downs. It’s three yards a pop with them. We have to be able to make some plays at and behind the line of scrimmage.
“If we do that we give ourselves a chance to win,” he concluded. “On the other side, we have to control the ball. We have to do what we do but effectively. We have to put points on the board and force them to score. But it’s going to be a challenge because they’ve won the last few of them. We’re just trying to get back on the W-side of this battle from the past few years.”