PICK ME UP: Interception helps Panthers regain momentum

The Panthers tackle the Trojans' Leander Cooper hard in the second half of the game. Photo by Thomas Sellers Jr.
The Panthers tackle the Trojans’ Leander Cooper hard in the second half of the game. Photos by Thomas Sellers Jr.
J.J. Vaden runs the ball.

Most Friday nights, the turning point of a football game might be debatable.

But most at Mooney Bosewell Field in Millington Friday night on either side of the stadium would pinpoint the interception of Bartlett Panther Kyler Allen as the biggest moment. Allen snatched a deflected pass from Millington Trojan quarterback Zeb Marvin out of the air and returned it to the 18 yard line.

The Trojans were driving to increase their 20-17 advantage midway through the third quarter. Instead the Panthers had the ball and seized control of the game. Bartlett quarterback Preston Raines scored the go-ahead touchdown, and a couple of additional Panther touchdowns made the final score 38-20.

“It was huge,” Bartlett Head Coach Tim Haney said. “It was a big turnover at the time. Our first 12 minutes, we played really well. Then all of sudden, it had a lot to do with them, they stepped it up. We kind of got away from everything. Offensively, defensively, they made a lot of good plays. We had to challenge our guys at halftime. They came out and the interception was a big play for us.”

Bartlett (5-4) was dominating the action early in the game when J.J. Vaden scored on a 33-yard run, giving the Panthers a 7-0 lead less than 2 minutes into the game. A few minutes later Noah Buckingham added to the Bartlett advantage with a 25-yard field goal.

The Panthers went ahead 17-0 early in the second quarter when Raines hit Nathan Johnson over the middle with a 17-yard touchdown pass.

Millington (1-8) started to claw back on its next possession. The Trojans drove the field 63 yards to the 2-yard line. Marvin closed the deal for Millington by taking a quarterback sneak over the goal line by extending the ball. The tally was 17-7 in favor of Bartlett.

The Trojans’ next score didn’t take as long when Leander Cooper took a handoff and exploded up the middle of the field for a 59-yard touchdown. Stephen Carter added the extra point, and the score was 17-14 with 7 minutes and 59 remaining in the first half.

Millington finally took the lead later in the second quarter, using a 64-yard Marvin-to-Cory Smith connection. With the ball resting on the one yard line, Marvin dropped back in his own end zone and fired a laser to Smith. The speedster avoided a couple of tackles and raced to the 35-yard-line.

A few moments later, Marvin used his cannon to locate Eddie Macklin over the middle. Macklin escaped one Panther and was able to locate the paydirt for the 34-yard touchdown.

The Trojans were ahead 20-17 going into the locker room. The momentum was still on the side of the Black and Gold after the Panthers punted to start the third quarter.

Millington was on the attack once again driving down the field. Then Allen made the play of the game.

“For us it was real crucial because we haven’t been able to build a lot of momentum in the season this year,” Millington Head Coach Chris Michael said. “That took some momentum away from us offensively. It put the defense back into a bad situation. Anytime you have turnover in any game against anybody, it’s going to be a momentum killer. That and other turnovers killed us in the second half.”

Allen returned the ball deep into Millington territory, setting up the Raines’ touchdown run that made the score 24-20.

Then the Panthers seized control of the game on the line of scrimmage. Bartlett went ahead 31-20 when Myron Washington took a handoff and broke loose for a 78-yard touchdown run.

“Both Washington and Robert Walker have big runs,” Haney noted. “Our offensive line did a great job. They came together in that second half. The first 12 minutes we played really well. Then late there in the second half, our offensive line kind of took over. Then our defensive line stepped up.”

Panther Collin Connor led the way on defense, making sacks and tackles in the Trojan backfield. With the Millington offense stalling, Washington capped off the scoring for the night with a 3-yard run.

“I told the guys, ‘We’re still our own worst enemy,’” Michael said. “‘We did some good things. When we were clean, we did some good things and had some success tonight. But just as soon as we made a mistake they capitalized.’”

Haney was happy his team took advantage of Millington miscues to leave Flag City with a winning record. Now the Panthers close the 2017 regular season taking on the powerful Cordova Wolves Friday night in Bartlett.

“We’ve got to come back and get ready to go again,” he concluded. “This is the last one, Senior Night against a really good Cordova team. So we’ve got to lace them up and get ready to play as hard as we can.”

Meanwhile the Trojans will have a short week traveling to Melrose Stadium Thursday night to close out the regular season against the defending Class 4A State champions East Mustangs.

“This season has been a tough one,” Michael said. “The guys are beat up and banged up. Seems like when you turn around and get one or two of them healed up or somewhat healthy enough to come back to play, you get two or three more banged up for the next week. So we’ll see what our personnel looks like and we’ll get a game plan together for East. They’re giants and they’re going to win the league. They haven’t lost a game in our league.

“We’ll get the guys ready, put them in positions to make plays,” he concluded. “Hopefully they come out and give us a great effort like they did tonight. We have to clean up some mistakes and hopefully give them a dog fight. I would like get it into a fourth quarter to where we have a chance. Hopefully we could put some pressure on them because we are the underdogs, as always. We’ll get prepared and it will take everything we’ve got and then some to take on a power like East.”

The Trojans' Cory Smith, at right, breaks up a pass by Bartlett tight end J.J. Vaden.
The Trojans’ Cory Smith, at right, breaks up a pass by Bartlett tight end J.J. Vaden.

THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star. Contact him at (901) 433-9138 or thomas.sellers@journalinc.com.