Mills’ brotherhood key in unbeaten grid start

When Cortez Lee took over the Little Rock Mills football program, the Comets had just gone 0-10 in 2018 and were clearly adrift.

Flash forward to this season and the Comets  (6-0, 4-0) are  regarded as one of the five best Class 5A programs in the state headed into Friday night’s home game with Pine Bluff (4-1, 3-1).

“I just think it is a combination of expectations and guys forming a brotherhood,  playing for each other and pulling for each other,” Lee said. “They like being around each other a lot and it shows. We just gotten better every year and built the program to where it is now.”

Mills and Pine Bluff have played two common opponents white Comets beating Maumelle (30-0) and Watson Chapel (42-14) and and the Zebras beating those teams 26-0 and 36-22 respectively.

“It is going to be a big challenge,” Lee said. “I think both teams are athletic in a lot of spots. I see effort and big play ability from their players and they seem well-coached. We are just going to have to go out there and do all the things that we have worked on and hope everything comes to fruition and hopefully we can be victorious again.”

Mills has handled most of its foes easily, but did have to battle through adversity to rally from a 19-0 and 32-22 deficits  to outlast White Hall 36-32.

“That was huge right there,” Lee said. “Guys never quit. We had our chances here and there but White Hall had a good scheme as far as running their zone power read and it took us a minute before we could kind of maintain it.

“Once we got it maintained, our guys started making plays on the other end and got our momentum going and after that we kind of kept it close. White Hall kept doing what it was doing, but we made a couple of big plays and pulled it out in the end.”

One of the key contributors for the Comets has been junior quarterback Achilles Ringo (6-3, 215), who was  26 of 38 passing for 406 yards against White Hall with five touchdowns, including a 27-yard game winner to Tyler Johnson with 30 seconds remaining.

“Achilles just keeps getting better each week as I continue to evaluate him,” Lee said. “I do think there is still so much more he can do, but each week he just keeps improving.

“When you look at him on film and then in practice, it is two entirely different things. He is just a gamer in my opinion. Even though he isn’t too bad in practice, but he just has a severity and urgency with his play in games that he just does not show in practice for whatever reason.

“But when it comes to games, I see a whole other player and I really appreciate that.”

Lee is hoping this season ends differently than 2021 when his team jumped out to a 5-0 start before losing 5 of its last six games, starting the stretch with a 38-28 loss at Clinton.

“Most definitely,” Lee said. “Just kind of looking back on last year, we kind of dropped the ball, even as coaches. We hit the injury bug pretty hard, but I still give Clinton and a couple of those teams credit for winning. We tell our players that there is a reason you lose – it’s called competition, its called compatibility. 

“So you never take from what somebody else accomplishes. So often we want to say, ‘we were hurt, we didn’t do this or that, but really we were just not prepared.’ So we are about, ‘guys, let’s just do our part and that’s all we can control.’”

The 30-0 win over Maumelle, who did not have a healthy quarterback and thus ran a version of the single wing with direct snaps to the running backs, was possibly his team’s most complete game of the season according to Lee.

Jabrae Shaw had three interceptions in that game and returned one of them for a touchdown while also catching a scoring pass from Ringo.

“I thought it was,” Lee said. “I saw a lot of good things in the game even though we didn’t make some plays we normally do make, but again that’s football. We did let them hang around a little bit, but our defense played lights out and all those guys were clicking on every other aspect of the game…Overall a complete game.”