ARLINGTON — First-game jitters might have been a common feeling inside the Millington Trojan locker room on the campus of Bolton High School.
But for a certain group in back and gold Friday night, the butterflies in the stomach might have been the size of eagles. Millington’s defensive backfield knew they had to step up with linebackers James Cox and Kyle Lindley out because of injuries.
The Trojans jumped out 14-0 over the host Bolton Wildcats in the first quarter. Then Bolton adjusted and fought back to make the score 14-12 by the fourth quarter.
Then the Wildcats were in position to steal the victory with the ball inside the 10-yard line with fewer than two minutes remaining. When the Wildcats botched a handoff, Trojan defensive back Romeo Mayes was there on the spot to recover the ball. The recovery locked up the victory for the Trojans 14-12.
“Last year we didn’t get a lot of these,” Millington Head Coach Chris Michael said. “Last year we got in a lot of situations with some good football teams where we competed. We just couldn’t finish. We competed but cost ourselves with mistakes. And the better team pulled it out. We couldn’t close things out when we got into position to close things out.
“I guess in spite of all the mistakes we were making on the offensive side of the ball, it was just our inability to get a stop on the defensive side of the ball,” he continued. “It’s great to see for them to see some kind of belief at the end when it gets tough and things aren’t going your way, it just takes one play to turn the tide to get the thing going in your direction.”
The 2017 season started in the right direction for Millington, taking the opening drive 65 yards down the field behind a couple of big runs by senior running back Justin Coleman. Teammate Gabe Christopher closed off the drive with a short touchdown run. Stephen Carter added the extra point to make the score 7-0 with fewer than nine minutes left in the opening quarter.
The 2017 campaign got off to a nightmarish start for the Wildcats when a short pass was fumbled on the first offensive play. Trojan Romello Thomas was there to scoop up the loose ball, setting up the next Millington score.
On that drive Millington received a big gain when quarterback Tommy Clifton hit Coleman with a screen pass on third down. Moments later Christopher was in the end zone again, this time from 10 yards out to make the tally 14-0 at the 5:44 mark of the first quarter.
The Trojans (1-0) were having success running the ball up the gut of the Bolton defense. The Wildcats made an adjustment the rest of the game with eight or nine players in the box.
“The passing game was there,” Michaels noted. “We didn’t do a good job of taking advantage of it in our play selection when it was given to us. We had a lot of success running the ball early. They took it away from us. They crowded the box and we did not do a good job of taking advantage of it.”
The Trojans had a few flashes of down-the-field success, like a leaping catch by Eddie Macklin, but Millington went scoreless the rest of the game.
Bolton (0-1) was scoreless through the first half. The second half, the Wildcats took advantage of the inexperienced Millington linebackers and safeties by running laterally.
“Actually our defensive learn well, very well,” Michaels said. “They ran the ball off the edge. We were extremely soft at our strong safety positions. We did not support things well. We knew the D-Line was going to be a good point for us. We were down at linebacker. We knew we were just playing linebacker by committee. It was next guy up. We struggled on the edge.”
KJ Barbee scored late in the third quarter to close out a Wildcat 79-yard drive. Barbee’s 5-yard TD made the score 14-6.
Midway through the fourth quarter Bolton scored again on a 6-yard touchdown run to make the tally 14-12. The Wildcats had a couple more chance to take the lead but their chance ended in the Mayes turnover.
“Hopefully it’s a learning thing for them across the board,” Michaels concluded. “Not getting complacent with a good start, keep turning the pressure on. Just all the little mental mistakes, I hope they learn from that.”