By Kevin Eickman
This past Friday evening, Milford traveled to Laurel to take on the Bulldogs. Laurel, thought of by many to be a major player in the Henlopen South this season, had a very simple strategy. The goal was to stop the Milford running game and force the Buccaneers to beat them another way. While Laurel may have won a few battles, Milford won the war. The Buccaneers defense came up big, pitching their third shutout of the season and second in a row, as they defeated Laurel 25-0.
One of the hallmarks of Milford over the last few years has been the Milford running game, led by senior David Bowman. With Bowman bottled up from the start of the game, with Laurel playing eight or more in the box, the pressure started to mount on the Buccaneers. In particular first year varsity quarterback Tayone’ Matthews was asked to step up. The junior responded with his best game for Milford, throwing two touchdown passes and also getting several key completions to spearhead the Milford offensive attack.
The game appeared to start well for Milford as they recovered a fumble on the games opening kick-off and worked the ball down to the Laurel nine yard line. The drive stalled however, and Milford missed on their 25 yard field goal attempt. From there a stalemate ensued, with field position flipping as Milford went for it on a fourth and short from their own 44 yard line and came up short. The Milford defense held and the first quarter ended with the teams knotted at zero.
Milford got a key punt return and set up shop on their own 46 yard line with 8:41 remaining in the opening half. Milford worked the ball into Laurel territory. That is when the Buccaneer air show began to take flight. With Laurel once again crowding the line, Matthews let fly with a beautiful spiral. At the other end of the pass was sophomore Gaji Copes who split two defenders and gathered the ball in for the score. The touchdown pass was the first of both Copes and Matthews careers.
“I knew I could get by the coverage and it was just a matter of Tayone’s making the throw,” Copes stated. “He put it right in my hands, it was just great.” Neither team would threaten again and the teams would enter the locker rooms with Milford leading 7-0.
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The Bucs got the ball to start the second half and did little with it, while Laurel had little luck at all on their first possession. Milford started their second possession of the half at their own 48 yard line. They gained a first down, before the offense started to go backwards thanks to a few penalties. The second one was huge, as it wiped out a monster run by junior Rahshawn Price. With the defense playing well however, Milford decided to roll the dice on a 4th and 28 from their own 49 yard line. Incredibly, Bowman beat his man and ran down the right sideline, as Matthews once again placed the ball perfectly. Thanks to the 51 yard strike, Milford enjoyed a 13-0 lead after missing the extra point with 3:39 remaining in the third quarter.
As the Milford defense continued to dominate, Milford would set up shop at the Laurel 30 yard line with time winding down in the third quarter. Milford worked the ball to the Laurel six yard line as the third quarter came to a close. Bowman took it in to start the fourth quarter. Milford failed on a two point conversion attempt as Milford extended their lead to 19-0 with 11:37 left in the game. Bowman closed out the scoring with his second rushing touchdown of the game with 5:00 remaining, taking the ball in from seven yards out.
Following the game, Matthews was asked about the way Laurel had been crowding the line of scrimmage earlier in the game. “They were really up tight, so we knew we were going to have to make some plays,” Matthews said. “Every week I’ve grown more comfortable with what we are doing, it was really just a matter of giving my guys a chance to catch it, which they did tonight.” Buccaneers coach Shaun Strickland was quick to echo the sentiment. “Every week, every game, you can see Tayone’ getting better. Tonight we really needed him and he came through for us.”
With the win, Milford improved their record to 3-2 on the season, 2-0 in the Henlopen South. Things will be much more difficult for the Buccaneers this week as defending D-II champs Woodbridge come to Milford on homecoming night. The Blue Raiders are riding a 19 game winning streak and have not lost a Henlopen South game in over two years. To have a chance at a victory, the Buccaneers are going to have to be at their best.
“When you go up against a team like Woodbridge you know they are going to bring it,” Strickland said. “We are going to need to be at our best to compete with them.”
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