Tigers Take Title: 'Team' finds itself in time for memorable playoff run
By By RANDY WINTON – Sports Writer
Looking back, it might be too much to ask Jamie Riggs to try and pinpoint the exact time his T.R. Miller Tigers overcame reeling from an early 3-2 record to become a "team." Yet, to completely absorb an entire season from beginning to end, and see the awesome metamorphosis his team experienced … well, it might be worth asking after all.
Because the importance of that transition was no more apparent than Saturday afternoon, when that "team' showed up as a band of warriors - common goal in tow - and raided sun-splashed Legion Field in Birmingham. When the pillaging was over, Miller (11-3) emerged with its sixth state championship, thanks to a 38-6 crushing of No. 9 Colbert County (12-3) in the AHSAA Super 6 Class 3A title game.
To say it looked to be a tough task to complete at one point in the year would be an understatement. The Tigers, who had entered the season as the top-ranked team in 3A, lost two of its first fives games and tumbled out of the rankings altogether by Week 6. And, when hopes of making the playoffs lingered, they still had to defeat five teams in the playoffs who were ranked in the Top 10 at the time of their meeting.
So, to try and score this championship with the others that have been claimed by T.R. Miller might be impossible.
In doing so, the Tigers tied four state championship game records and broke one other. Two of those records now belong to junior quarterback Brad Lannom, whose efforts on Saturday earned him the game's Most Valuable Player award.
How fitting. For it was Lannom who was so instrumental in Miller's impressive playoff run, leading to Saturday's ultimate prize. And on high school football's biggest stage, Lannom was one of its brightest lights. He completed seven of his eight passes (to seven different receivers) for 140 yards and three touchdowns. His name will now be in the record books for highest completion percentage in a championship game (.875) and ties the record for most TD passes in the title contest.
Indeed. The two teams seemed almost mirror images on paper. On paper, the Indians were making their eleventh appearance in a state championship game; Miller was making its twelfth. On paper, the Indians had won six state championships; Miller had five titles in hand. On paper, the Indians averaged 28 points per game; Miller scored 32.5 each week. On paper, the Indians had a 64-20-1 playoff record in 27 appearances; Miller countered with a 64-17 record in 23 showings in the post-season.
On paper, the Indians' statistics for the year boasted gaudy passing and rushing yardage, leading one to believe its size and team speed and awesome athleticism might be too much to handle.
But, they don't play games on paper. And that's where real life turned Colbert County into just another football team, thanks in large part to the inspiring defensive efforts of guys like seniors Dominic Johnson and Quentin Galloway - who had seven tackles apiece - and Webster Bailey, who added six tackles, including three for losses totaling 16 yards. Bailey also returned a fumble 16 yards for a touchdown.
When it did, the offense certainly parlayed each of its chances into points.
Already leading 3-0 following a 25-yard Joseph Turner field goal halfway through the first quarter, Lannom culminated a six-play, 79-yard drive by hitting Johnson, who climbed over two defenders to make the play for the touchdown. Turner's PAT made it 10-0 with 25 seconds left in the first quarter.
After the Tiger defense forced a three-and-out, Kirk Brown broke through on the punt attempt and blocked the Colbert County kick, setting up a play from the Indian 23-yard line. Riggs might never have called the following play if assistant coach Jack Whigham had not planted a seed.
So, he did.
What resulted was Lannom handing the ball to Antawn Gomez, who took one step toward the line, turned and flipped it back to Lannom, who in turn lofted a pass in the right corner for senior Brent Salter to leap up and grab for the touchdown.
Leading 17-0 as the half came to a close, the Tigers knew the importance of the first drive of the second half. So, following the script, the Tigers took first possession and put together a meticulous 13-play drive that included three third-down conversions and ended when Lannom found junior tight end Trent Davidson in the middle of the end zone. The seven-yard touchdown culminated a possession that chewed up nearly seven minutes off the clock and began a blinding three-minute scoring blitz that put the game out of reach.
After Davidson's score, Colbert County fumbled just two plays later and Gomez obliged by scoring on the first play from the 7. Three plays later, the Indians again coughed up the ball, and Bailey scooped it off the turf to ramble in untouched from the 16.
Before they could blink, that reachable 17-0 deficit turned into a 38-0 nightmare for the Indians, although they would eventually score a late touchdown to account for the game's final score.