By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Winner would be the champion of Region 8-4A. The Wildcats entered the contest 6-1 and victors of the Bolton Wildcats in league play. Meanwhile the defending champions Trojans were victorious against the Craigmont Chiefs as part of their 6-1, 1-0 mark.
The showdown for the Region crown lived up to the hype with Fayette-Ware taking an early advantage. The Trojans had a response and kept the pressure on the Wildcats leading to a 27-12 win over Fayette-Ware.
“I’m happy for those kids,” Millington Head Coach Chris Michael said. “Last year they were climbing out. They were finding a way to win. Haven’t had any success in the league and they found a way to win those league games. I was happy for them, but they weren’t satisfied.
“And that’s what made them committed in the offseason,” he added. “I’ve told them this week, ‘You’ve worked too hard from last December up till this point.’ And you’ve earned where you are right now so go out there and take what is yours. And lock yourself up a Region title because you don’t put in all that work to get this far and give it all away.”
Fayette-Ware was prepared to take the Region crown jumping out 6-0 after an Atlantis Lax 1-yard touchdown run less than 4 minutes into the game.
Millington took its first possession down the field setting up a 27-yard Eli Roberts field goal to make the tally 6-3.
The Trojans (6-1, 1-0 in Region 8-4A) finally grabbed the lead with 56 seconds left in the first quarter when Millington quarterback Tommy Clifton scored on a 4-yard TD run.
The first quarter concluded with the Trojans ahead 10-6. Millington increased its lead to 17-6 with 6 minutes and 8 seconds left in the first half when Clifton broke loose for a 22-yard touchdown run.
Fayette-Ware took control of the ball with 5:58 remaining in the second quarter. The Wildcats (6-2, 1-1) drove down the field ending up with the ball on the 1-yard-line with less than 10 seconds left.
The Wildcats tried to run the ball into the end zone but Trojans like Adrian “Bug” Dowell, Hunter Smith and Hunter Lucas were there to stop the potential touchdown. The horn sounded for halftime with the Trojans ahead 17-6.
Millington jumped ahead 20-6 with 5 minutes and 10 seconds left in the third quarter when Eli Roberts drilled a 31-yard field goal.
The Wildcats answered with a drive mixed with runs and Trojan penalties. Fayette-Ware scored with 3:41 left in the period to make the tally 20-12.
The championship showdown was a one-score game entering the final quarter. The Trojans needed a scored for insurance. Clifton used his arm to give Millington the touchdown it needed.
The senior signal caller located Marquez Flowers with a bullet from 4-yards away. Roberts added the extra point and the Trojans were ahead 27-12.
Clifton’s go-to target on the night was sophomore receiver Garrett Haley. The young wideout caught a pair of first down passes over the middle to keep Trojan drives alive.
Haley even hauled in a reception near the sideline to keep a Millington drive alive in the first half.
Millington’s defense led by players like Romello Thomas, Devin Knight, TJ Graves and Emmanuel Barrera shutdown the Wildcats last few attempts at cutting into the deficit in the fourth quarter.
“We still didn’t play a complete game. We had a couple of turnovers. And they’re a good football team. We knew they were a high-scoring team,” Michael acknowledged. “They were all kinds of trouble. They move the chains and we had some penalties I was disappointed in. We had some personal fouls. We had two touchdowns pulled off back-to-back down here.
“We’ve got to get better as we finish up these last couple of weeks,” he added. “I don’t know what Dyersburg or Ripley, who we’re going to face, is going to be like this year. I haven’t seen any film on any of them. I do know Haywood is ranked top 3 in the state. They’re going to be tough. But I don’t know about the rest of them.”
Millington will get a potential playoff preview when the Trojans travel to Ripley next Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff. For the moment, Michael and his crew are going to enjoy their achievement, and the leader of the Trojans hopes his nine seniors fully enjoy the championship moment.
“I think Markees, Tommy and Verdo (Young) have been here all four years,” he said. “Unfortunately Verdo isn’t getting to play this year because of his injury. We hope to get him back. But those three have been here the whole time. I think Hunter was out a year and Barrera. Then we’ve picked up a couple with Will Bernard transferring over from Bolton. He’s been with us a few years. Melo left and came back. Glad to have him back. Cameron Haley transferred in and Tristan Payne transferred in. So there is really three or four of them who have been here the whole time.
“I am tickled for those guys,” Michael concluded. “It is so taxing to do what we do and now have success. It’s so taxing on you mentally and your body. What the game is, it beats you up. And it is so hard to come back and keep doing this. I give all the credit to those seniors for sticking through what they had to and they kept persevering. To endure through four years and continuing to show up and work while believing they would be successful. Everybody followed them and it’s a tribute to our success at the end of last year and carrying over to this year.”