By Kevin Eickman
All night long they had battled back, not given up, never quitting. It was a hallmark of the Milford Buccaneers this season, even when the game was over. Nothing was going to bring the Bucs back from this one, but it did not matter to them. So trailing 39-20 against Lake Forest, with just eight seconds left, junior William Kimmel would throw the final touchdown pass of the season. While the issue was decided long before, it showed what kind of heart Milford played with the entire season.
“We are very proud of our guys, just like they had all season, they refused to quit,” coach Shaun Strickland said. “All season long our guys demonstrated heart, they should be very proud of themselves.”
The result of the 39-26 defeat was two fold, Lake Forest won the annual match for a fifth consecutive year and Milford’s playoff aspirations were left hanging by a thread. The news was not good for the Buccaneers this Sunday when the State Tournament field was announced and Milford was not in it. The Buccaneers tied Hodgeson Vocational Tech for the final spot, but lost on the tiebreaker.
“Our goal was to make the playoffs this year, but we are not going to let it define our year,” Strickland stated. “What defined our year was having a winning season and getting better as the year went on.”
Milford had been chasing Lake all night long, starting with the first time the Spartans touched the ball. Moving the ball fairly easily against a depleted Buccaneer defense, Lake went on a 60 yard march on just four plays to get the games first score with 7:39 remaining in the first quarter. With a missed extra point, the Buccaneers trailed 6-0.
The Buccaneers appeared to respond on the ensuing possession, moving the ball well against Lake before being forced to punt from midfield. Disaster would strike for Milford as Lake would return the punt 85 yards for a touchdown. This time Lake would make the extra point, extending their lead to 13-0 with 4:25 left in the first quarter.
On the following possession Milford would respond, working their way down the field. The drive would be capped on a two yard run by sophomore David Bowman, with the two point conversion failing. Bowman who would be later injured in the game, would finish the season with over 1,000 yards for the second consecutive year. The second year player had faced fierce opposition the second half of the season, with teams loading up the box in an attempt to stop him.
“What can you say about a player like DJ, he does everything you ask of him and more,” Strickland said. “He is a complete football player, he is an outstanding runner, but his defense is just as spectacular.”
Following the touchdown, the Milford defense would have their biggest moment of the night. With Lake starting at the Bucs 30 yard line, Milford would force a three and out. Matters appeared to turn in the Buccaneers favor, as a poor snap allowed them to tackle the Lake punter on his own 20 yard line. It was just the break Milford needed. Unfortunately the Bucs were unable to take advantage of it and the Lake defense turned them back. “That was a big series for us right there, we really needed to take advantage of that opportunity,” said Strickland.
Buoyed by their defensive success, Lake was looking to get one more score before the end of the first half. It would not take very long as a quarterback keeper would net a 60 yard touchdown run for the Spartans, giving Lake a substantial 20-6 lead with just over two minutes before the end of the second period.
If Milford was going to have any real chance to win the game, a score on the opening possession of the second half was needed. The Lake defense stepped up to the plate and forced the Buccaneers to punt. Starting from their own 20 yard line, Lake would march right down the field. With each passing play, it was becoming apparent that the Bucs would not be able to stop them. The 80 yard drive would place Milford at a 26-6 disadvantage, with just over 8 minutes remaining. Lake would appear to put the final nail in the Milford corner, scoring another touchdown, giving them a 32-6 advantage with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Milford would try valiantly to come from behind as Kimmel would score on a keeper and freshman Rahshawn Price would score a two point conversion to close the gape to 32-14 with 11:09 left in the game. In full come from behind mode, Milford would recover the inside kick, breathing life into the Buccaneers. The hope would be short lived however as the Bucs would be picked off on the very next play.
The only other score for Milford in the game would be a beautiful 63 yard touchdown pass from junior Marcus Correa to fellow junior Brion Murray. The play was a reminder of what is possible going forward as there should be some big play talent coming back next season.
“It was just our first season together, so we know that there is room to grow,” Strickland stated. “These guys showed me they aren’t afraid of hard work, so that’s what we are going to do going forward. We are going to work harder and get better.”
With this game being the final game for the Milford seniors, Strickland spoke about the group. “What a great bunch of players, they bought into it which was so important. All season long these guys demonstrated leadership,” said Strickland. “I really wish we would have had just one more season with those guys, they are awesome.”
The 6-4 record would represent the first winning season for Milford since the 2009 season.