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Miller improvises FCS into quarterfinals
Nov 14, 2006 12:00 am
The image of Garrett McKnight flashing across the back of the end zone and catching Jon Miller's bullet for Friendship Christian's game-winning touchdown will remain in the memory of the Commander fanatical forever.
But the decisive score in the Commanders' 20-19 come-from-behind heart-stopper over Gordonsville didn't come off as drawn on Coach John McNeal's greaseboard in the Bay Family Sportsplex team room.
"The play there was designed for (John) Doak on an out," Commander coach John McNeal said of the fateful score which came on second and goal with 17.9 seconds to play. "Jon did a great job coming off. McKnight didn't stop running his route. Great pass, great catch.
"I'd love to say that's the way it was drawn up, but it wasn't."
Miller completed 10 of 21 passses for 139 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Commanders overcame a two-score deficit in the final 9:07 to stay undefeated. A couple of the incompletions came when Gordonsville's defense blanketed the receivers and the senior threw the ball away.
"I just knew I couldn't make any dumb mistakes, and I did at the end of the first when when I threw an interception when I should have just probably thrown it away," Miller said after his 12-0 Commanders reached the state quarterfinals for the third straight year. "In the end zone, I knew we had to have a score and I saw Garrett clear, cause I sprinted left. And I just looked backside and there was Garrett and I hit him. I just threw it as good as I could.
"John was our intended receiver. They knew we were probably going to go to him because we went to him on that play right before that (15-yard touchdown earlier in the fourth)."
Gordonsville used its punishing running game to lead 13-0 and 19-7 going into the fourth quarter.
"They did a great job," McNeal said of Gordonsville's game plan. "Their scheme, which was to try to get to (Mr. Football Lineman candidate) Wade (Mitchell) and they did it. But our guys made a few adjustments finally in the second half and our defense stepped up when they knew they had to right there when we had to get the ball back. We had a great return by Doak.
"Another thing is we had kids playing hurt. Wade's got a hurt knee. We're banged up. And going into next week, we're going to be banged up bad. Hey, they'll just have to get it done."
Friendship ran the ball behind Jeremy Rickaway and John Markham in the second half with success. Rickaway broke an 80-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter to get the Commanders on the board.
"What got us (back) was going back to two backs running the ball and Jeremy busting a long run," McNeal said.
A 28-yard punt return by Doak gave Friendship a short field at the Gordonsville 16-yard line. Miller found Doak in the left flat on fourth down and the senior receiver used some nifty footwork to step into the corner of the end zone to bring the Commanders within 19-14 with just over nine minutes to play.
Friendship's defense, which couldn't get the big stop during the first three quarters, forced a second straight punt after Michael Teeter sacked Smith on third down to give the Commanders the ball at their 38 with 6:46 to play.
Behind a mixture of Markham and Rickaway (129 yards on 15 carries, including 124 after halftime) runs and Miller passses, Friendship drove to the 2 before an offsides penalty backed the Commanders to the 7, from where Miller made the pass which sent the portion of some 2,100 spectators wearing green into delirium.
Smith, who bedazzled Friendship with 49 rushing yards on 21 carries and 138 on 6-of-9 passing, threw his final pass to Friendship defensive back Eric Molander as the Commanders clinched their 12th conquest with 5.2 seconds left.
After a Miller kneeldown in victory formation, the Commanders were cleared to host fellow 12-0 Tennessee Temple next Friday at Pirtle Field.
Gordonsville (8-4) seemed to dominate the flow of the game throughout the first half. The Tigers drove the ball 68 yards on their first 16 plays to a 1-yard touchdown run by Travis Alexander, who led the visitors with 80 yards on 16 carries, for a 7-0 lead.
Having gone three and out on the ground on his team's first series to start the game, McNeal went to the spread and saw results. But Friendship stalled on the Gordonsville 39 and Wade Mitchell punted to the Tigers' 11.
But Gordonsville broke free as Alexander, on third and 19, busted through the line for a 32-yard run to the 46.
Friendship finally made the stop as Smith slipped on the turf for a 9-yard loss and Jordan Davis was thrown for a 2-yard setback by Molander, forcing a punt with less than a minute to play.
Miller passed the Commanders from their 32 to the Gordonsville 19 before Tyler Vaden picked him off to end the first half.
Gordonsville moved the ball downfield to start the second half to Alexander's 1-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. The extra point missed, leaving the Tigers with a 13-0 lead and vulnerable to a Commander comeback.
Rickaway broke free behind the defense on the next series and outran the pursuers for the 80-yard score to give hope to the Friendship side.
Smith and Vaden snatchd it right back just over two minutes later they hooked up for an 81-yard score. Gordonsville coach Bob Dillard went for two points on the conversion with Alexander stopped short, leaving the Tigers ahead 19-7.
That seemed enough when Mitchell had to punt again in the final seconds of the third quarter. But his 55-yard kick rolled to the Gordonsville 3 and Friendship's defense held.
"I was worried," Miller admitted. "It didn't really hit me though. But I realized I am a senior and I didn't want to go out and lose to Gordonsville, just because of the rivalry and everything there. And I didn't want to let my friends down because we've all worked so hard out here this year. I love every one of them, and we all worked together and made it happen."
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.