By Kevin Eickman
It always seemed as if the game was going to hinge on just a few plays. All Saturday night long the elements had dictated the pace of play and as the third quarter turned into the fourth, Mother Nature had one more trick up her sleeve. All evening long the Milford Buccaneers had battled Wilmington Friends, along with the elements. With a fierce wind, driving rain and face stinking hail, little had gotten accomplished through the air. From the beginning of the game, right up until the final whistle, the elements almost never let up; almost.
As the fourth quarter got underway, Milford found themselves holding a 7-2 advantage. The visiting Quakers found themselves facing a 3rd and forever at their own 33 yard line. With just over 11 minutes remaining, it looked as if the Buccaneers would be able to force a punt and then chew some precious time on the clock. The wind had died down a bit and no precipitation was falling from the sky however, as Friends quarterback Justin Beneck let fly with a moon ball down the right sideline. The Buccaneer secondary had been caught napping and Devonte Church of Friends would make them pay for their inattentiveness, corralling the offering and going all the way for the touchdown.
“We had played well on defense all night and one play, just one play got away from us,” Coach Shaun Strickland commented. “Friends are the type of team that will make you pay for your mistakes and tonight we sure did.” Milford stopped the two point conversion and still had 10:51 left to try and take back the lead.
Milford worked the ball deep into Friends territory on the next possession, but failed to convert on a key fourth down and turned the ball over to Friends at their own 22 yard line with just over six minutes remaining.
Friends would make two first downs, using up four minutes of clock before the Milford defense stiffened forcing the visitors to punt. Senior Chris Sampson took the ball deep in Milford territory and returned it to the Buccaneers 45 yard line. With just under two minutes remaining, there was still hope. On the very first play from scrimmage however, Milford put the ball on the ground and Friends pounced on it, extinguishing the Buccaneers season once and for all.
“We had some bad turnovers at some bad times, those types of plays can make all the difference,” Strickland stated.
One of the problems with the weather early in the game was the field position issues the wind had caused. Friends had pinned the Bucs deep early and often, forcing Milford to struggle against a stacked front. The Quaker’s keyed on Milford junior running back David Bowman the whole night, yet he was still able to bust one up the gut for a 98 yard touchdown run to give Milford a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
It was that same difficult field position that proved costly midway through the second half, as after being able to go nowhere from their own one foot line following an interception they lined up to punt. The snap sailed over the head of senior punter Kaje Tiggs-Reynolds, cutting the Milford advantage to 7-2 lead they would take into the locker room.
There was nothing easy about the game on Saturday, not the weather, not the outcome, nothing. In particular the look of anguish on the faces of the Buccaneer’s players was crushing. These players put it all on the line week in and week out, putting together a 9-2 record allowing Milford to return to the playoffs for the first time in eight years. It was tough to watch. Over time the pain will fade and this Buccaneers squad will look back and realize just how special they really were. It was just something they did not want to hear Saturday night.
“It’s about grabbing your opportunity when it presents itself, tonight we didn’t do that,” Strickland stated. “That’s ok, we will learn from this, we will get better because of it. This team will never stop believing in themselves.”
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