Tri-County trying to get over hump in title game

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 15, 2000

The Tri-County Rebels rolled through most of the Mississippi Private Schools Association in the 1990s, but may have come away with a label they’d rather not have “The second-best team of the decade.”

As a new decade opens, they’re trying to start it with a different label “state champions.”

Tri-County, which last won a state title in 1985 and finished as the state runner-up three times in the 1990s, will have a chance to earn that name for the first time in 15 years when it faces Heidelberg Academy Thursday at 1 p.m. at Mississippi College in Clinton for the Academy-A title.

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“It means everything in the world,” said Tri-County senior running back and linebacker Jeff Johnson. “It’s something to go out winning your last football game. But it being a state championship football game, and going out on top, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

For Tri-County’s seniors, it’s been a long trip back to the championship game. Most of them were freshmen on the last Tri-County squad to make it this far, in 1997. It was the second of back-to-back title game disappointments for the Rebels, who also fell to Carroll Academy 25-14 in the 1990 championship game.

“We try to get back there every year. We knew what it was like to get there,” senior linebacker Sam Barber said. “I’ve wanted (a state title) since we got there the first time.”

Tri-County head coach Bo Milton, who was in his first year at the school in 1997, has shared in the disappointment of early playoff losses the last two seasons, including a first-round exit last year.

“It was just emotional, and just heartbreak. Your first year, and you go to the state championship game with the first team you’ve ever coached, it was amazing,” said Milton, who won two Academy-AAA titles as a player for Parklane in 1986 and 1987. “And I learned a lot from it. We’re going to relax. We’re going to enjoy this week, but we’re also going to get ready to play a football game and we’re going to play as hard as we possibly can.”

He said he knew that the current group of seniors Tri-County has 13 on its roster had the potential to go far, even back then.

“We had them in the ninth grade my first year there and we knew there was a lot of potential. And they’ve lived up to all our expectations. They’ve really done all we’ve ever asked them to do,” Milton said.

The team has realized its potential over the past few seasons, with five straight conference titles and a 31-game conference winning streak. This season, they’ve come into their own on both sides of the football. The Rebels have rushed for nearly 3,000 yards, yet no single back has over 1,000.

Defensively, Tri-County hasn’t allowed a point in three playoff games and has four shutouts in its last five games.

Tri-County’s players realize that those numbers won’t mean anything, however, if they don’t come through one last time on Thursday.

“I probably won’t get here again, so we just have to pull it out and play like a team,” junior quarterback Bo Fisher said, adding that the Rebels’ title drought is inspiration. “It kind of pumps me up. We can be the third team to win it in history. We can be a special group.”

Senior lineman Brandon Renicker also said the drought was inspiration for the team.

“We’d be the first team since ’85 to do it. It’s about time to bring one home,” he said.