By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Rain was in the forecast for Friday night since Wednesday afternoon.
The droplets of water from the Millington sky was expected. Those attending the Ripley Tigers vs. Millington Trojans at Mooney Boswell Field knew a Homecoming Queen would be crowned for the first time at Millington Central Middle High School. The name recognized at halftime of the game was senior Ruby Russell.
But several attending the game predicted Ripley to pull out the contest on the field because of recent history with the Tigers dominating the Trojans. If Millington was going to have a chance to pull off the upset against Ripley, the Trojans needed senior athlete Cortlynn Barnes on the field.
Barnes’ availability was in jeopardy late in the first half when flags were thrown, whistles were blown and Millington Head Coach Chris Michael had to take the field to address his player.
“We have a lot of emotional kids,” Michael said. “Well we all do because this is a very emotional sport. Tensions are high and in a big game there are a lot of emotions. And he lost his emotions in that scuffle there. He got a penalty. Initially I thought they ejected him. So I walked out there to walk him off the field.
“We just had a conversation about knowing what’s right and doing what’s best for the team,” he continued. “He knew that his reactions were costing us 15 yards. At the time we thought he was ejected. I went and talked to the officials at half about his penalty. They said it was just unsportsmanlike and that he wasn’t ejected.”
With a second chance to impact the game against Ripley, Barnes helped the Trojans erase a 7-0 halftime deficit to prevail 14-7 over the Tigers. Barnes scored on a 58-yard TD run with a Jet-sweep called. Then the senior gave the Trojans the late advantage from his defensive back position intercepting a pass and taking it 79 yards to the house for eventual game-winning score.
“I told him, ‘That was 15 you cost us going right into halftime,” Michael recalled. “Now go back out there and get me 15…(points).’ He literally did that. It’s one of those things that just comes out of your mouth when you’re talking to a kid. But he played really big for us in the second half. I was just proud of him and that showed a lot of maturity.”
Millington (3-4) displayed maturity on defense all night with names like Jonathan Temple-Dowdy, TJ Graves, RJ Allen, Jeremiah Temple-Dowdy, Harry Gibson, Contre Macklin and more called over the public address system throughout the dreary night.
Ripley (3-4) took advantage of a Millington special teams miscue to take the lead 7-0 late in the first quarter.
“We have to get better in the kicking game,” Michael acknowledged. “Their points came on a snap over the punter’s head. That’s on us as coaches. We work our extra points team a lot. We just haven’t worked with Garrett (Haley) on that long snap a lot. He’s got a great snap.
“He has a lot of mustard on it,” he continued. “It’s like a college snap, that thing comes flying back there like a bullet. He just snapped it, a hot one, over Chase’s head. We’ve got to clean that up. I think our defense played so well tonight we could have kept them out of the end zone if we didn’t give them such a short field.”
The Tigers handed the ball to athlete Terrance Edler for a 7-yard TD run and Ripley was ahead by a touchdown going into the second quarter.
“Ripley has gotten us the last couple of times since we’ve had them in league and on our schedule,” Michael said. “Coach (Justin) Cruse always has a good group of guys, a bunch of talented players. He’s got big guys. They’re always big and athletic.
“So we knew from what we’ve seen on film, they are who they are,” he added. “Cookie-cutter like they are every year. They’re going to have speed around the end. Big dudes that push us around. We did notice he was playing young guys and he was playing a lot of guys both ways just like us. We just felt if we could hang in there and get some stops, the offense could find some way to score.”
After nearly losing Barnes to a penalty, the Trojans settled down and headed to the locker room. Coming out of the locker room, Millington had a new homecoming queen and the skies were dry. After a scoreless third period, the Trojans finally tied the game when Barnes’ number was called on a sweep.
“Jonathan made a really good block on that side,” Michael noted. “And Cortlynn, our receiver, once he gets on the outside he’s pretty hard to catch. Most of them have a hard time catching him.”
Barnes raced up the Ripley sideline for the 58-yard touchdown. Chase Michael drilled his second attempt at the extra point after an offsides call to deadlock the game at 7-7 with 11:43 remaining in the game.
“We struggled offensively,” Michael acknowledged. “They were knocking us around on the line of scrimmage. But we were able to get around the edge a couple of times and pick up some yards. Offensive finally got it.”
The Tigers gained possession and had the ball in Millington territory facing a fourth down play. With 7 minutes and 19 seconds left in the contest, Ripley threw a pass and Barnes stepped into the line of fire and snatched the ball out of the air. Once Barnes’ feet landed on the moist turf, he was off to the races for a 79-yard pick-six. The extra point made the tally 14-7 in favor of the Trojans.
“The defense was big all night long,” Michael said. “You create turnovers. We’ve got to make them and put the ball into the offense’s hands so they can turn them into points. It was a huge night for all of them.”
The defense would secure the victory stopping Ripley’s last two possessions of the game including Graves batting down the last Tiger offensive play of the game.
“We’ve got a week off which is much needed,” Michael concluded. “We’ve got a lot of guys banged up. Hopefully we’ll have most of everybody back by the time we load up on the bus to head to Dyersburg.”