New Hope High School sophomore Tray Ivy breaks free for a 72-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning touchdown by Braylen Miller in a 24-17 victory against Leake Central on Thursday. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
New Hope High School junior defensive back Ty Hairston celebrates following an interception by Michael Chambers with 55 seconds remaining that helped seal a 24-17 victory against Leake Central. The win was the Trojans’ first of the season and improved their playoff chances.
Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
New Hope High School junior running back Braylen Miller had 32 carries for 211 yards Thursday night in a 24-17 victory against Leake Central in a Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A, Region 4 game at Trojan Field in Columbus.
Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
October 12, 2018 12:14:08 PM
Braylen Miller was hungry.
The New Hope High School junior wasn't alone. After eight games, Miller and his teammates were starving for a victory to end a season-opening eight-game losing streak and to give New Hope first-year head coach Wade Tackett his first victory.
The Trojans' hunger nearly proved too much to control.
Stalled repeatedly by numerous self-inflicted wounds, New Hope delivered timely big plays in the fourth quarter, including three in the final 5 minutes, 14 seconds to beat Leake Central 24-17 on Thursday night in a Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A, Region 4 game at Trojan Field.
"This group has had some tough breaks all year. Most of them are been self inflicted, to be honest with you, but we have toughed it through, and we came back in the second half and kept doing what we did in the first half. It just paid off a little more," said Tackett, who had only four seniors see action. "I am really proud of this group. It was a good, hard-fought win."
Miller, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound running back, played a key role on Homecoming after not practicing earlier in the week due to an injury and only going through a walk-through. Still, Miller responded with 32 carries for a career-high 211 yards. He accounted for all 22 yards on the final scoring drive, a four-play push to pay dirt, that was set up by a 72-yard kickoff return by Tray Ivy.
"Without my offensive line, I wouldn't be here," Miller said. "They do it all for me. I am just going off their energy. When they give me the energy and tell me to keep going, that's what I do."
An interception by Michael Chambers sealed the deal with 55 seconds remaining and set off a celebration on the New Hope sideline. It capped a dominating ground game that had 51 carries for 279 yards.
The plays down the stretch enabled New Hope to overcome 14 penalties, including five pass interference calls. The Trojans also had untimely penalties and dropped passes that stalled drives. Just before halftime, each team had a player ejected following a melee near midfield following a punt. There weren't any other incidents in the second half.
The missteps cost New Hope a chance to build on its dominance in the first half, when it held a 202-46 edge in yards. Leake Central led 14-7 at halftime after it won the field position battle and capitalized on a short punt to score its first touchdown. The Gators' second score came off a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown.
Miller picked up where he left off in the first half and had 15 of his carries in the last two quarters. Quarterback Ryan Burt hit Richard Guy with a 6-yard scoring pass in the third quarter to tie the game at 14. Ben Bradley's 27-yard field goal with 9:22 to play gave the Trojans the lead before the Gators tied it with a 33-yard field goal. New Hope committed three of its pass interference penalties on that drive.
"You couldn't say it better, two steps forward, one step back," Burt said. "But at halftime (coach Tackett) told us we're shooting ourselves in the foot. In the second half, we put the guns up and we didn't shoot ourselves in the foot hardly at all. It was a group effort. ... We really came together. It was cool to see that and good to get our first win."
Burt, who is a standout on the school's baseball team, praised the play of offensive linemen R'monta Harris, Rayshawn Gibson, Bradley Peeks, Ricky Newby, and CJ Sanders. Burt said he felt the four juniors and sophomore (Sanders) building momentum up front, which made it really easy for him to turn around and give the football to Miller to watch him work.
"I know every time I give him the ball there is a high chance he is going to do something special," Burt said. "When we got rolling, our offensive line was awesome. I couldn't have asked for a better group of guys to get up there and do their jobs."
The victory set the Trojans (1-8, 1-2 region) up to be in position to earn the fourth and final playoff spot in Region 4. New Hope will close the regular season with games against Jackson Prep, which is a member of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS), and Region 4 rival Noxubee County. Leake Central (0-8, 0-2) has to win its final two region games against region leader Louisville and Noxubee County, the reigning region champion, to overtake New Hope, which would earn the tiebreaker if both teams ended the regular season tied. A three-way tie would require a tiebreaker.
But New Hope wasn't thinking about those permutations when the final horn sounded. Tackett told his players they deserved the victory for fighting through a season's worth of ups and downs. He praised their fight and punctuated his message by telling the Trojans they were going to the playoffs.
Afterward, the reality of the victory was sinking in for Miller, who was wearing pink socks to coincide with October being Breast Cancer Awareness month.
"They just put it on me and were like, 'We have to score,' " Miller said. "They just motivated me to keep going. They believed in me and I believed in them, and I believe in my offense."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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