By Kevin Eickman
Earlier in the season the Milford Buccaneers defeated the Woodbridge Blue Raiders rather handily, earning a comfortable 20-6 victory. This past Friday as the teams renewed their rivalry in a tournament match-up, any thoughts of a repeat performance quickly evaporated on the games very first play from scrimmage. Woodbridge junior Jamon Kane took a dive play up the middle, escaped a tackle and was off to the races. He did not stop until he crossed the goal line 75 yards later, it was the first of many punches to the gut that Milford would receive on the evening.
“We knew they were going to come ready to play tonight, so it was about us being able to adjust and respond,” Milford senior David Bowman stated.
Spotting Woodbridge a 7-0 lead was not in the game plan. What was in the game plan however was Bowman. While he has often carried the Buccaneers on his shoulders before, rarely has it been in the role of quarterback. While he has played the position at times, with Milford’s starting quarterback unavailable, it fell to Bowman to handle the majority of the signal calling duties for the Bucs. After receiving a hand off to start the game, Milford shifted to the wildcat for the remainder of the contest.
With Woodbridge a bit out of sorts possibly due to the change of Milford offensive philosophy, the Buccaneers were quick to respond to the opening Blue Raider touchdown. Working the ball systematically down the field, the Buccaneers covered the 70 yards in just over four minutes as junior Rahshawn price took it in from 24 yards out and junior Jonathan Gaglione converted the extra point to knot the score at 7-7 with 7:28 remaining in the first quarter.
“I knew that there was going to be a larger workload for me than usual, so it was all about getting ready for the game tonight during the week,” Price said. “We knew Woodbridge was going to be tough tonight, so it was all about getting it right in practice so we would be ready.”
Woodbridge drove to the Milford eight yard line on the ensuing possession, courtesy of a huge play-action pass. The Blue Raiders converted a 23 yard field goal to retake the lead 10-7 with 3:59 still to go in the first quarter.
Milford did little on their next possession and were forced to punt from their own 35 yard line. Gaglione got off a beauty however and Milford was able to flip the field position as Woodbridge took over on their own 10 yard line. The Blue Raiders could do little with the ball and after a first down were forced to punt, setting the Buccaneers up with good field position.
As play continued, Woodbridge began to key on Bowman and Price and the running yards for Milford began to become harder to come by. With Woodbridge cheating up, the stage was set for a little bit of deception on the part of the Buccaneers. From the Woodbridge 35 yard line, Bowman faked a hand off to Price and rolled right looking to pass. Wide open down the field was senior Parker Chandler, the only question remaining was if Bowman could get it to him. While Bowman has a solid arm, he appeared to short arm the throw a bit and Parker was forced to wait for it to arrive. When it finally did, Woodbridge had rallied to the ball but Parker was able to slip away for the touchdown. “When I looked up and saw how open he was all I could think of was getting him the ball as soon as I could, so I kind of short-armed it a bit,” Bowman said, with a wry smile “That’s OK though, I knew Park would get it done.”
It looked as if the teams would head to the locker rooms with the Buccaneers leading 14-10 as time was winding down in the first half. That all changed however, when Bowman ripped of a 38 yard run down to the Woodbridge 22 yard line. Milford eventually worked the ball down to the Blue Raiders four yard line before having to settle for a 20 yard Gaglione field goal to end the half with the Bucs leading 17-10.
Milford had the ball to start the second half and was able to advance it to the Woodbridge 30 yard line, before the drive stalled. A directional punt set up Woodbridge at their own 18 yard line. The Bucs defense forced a three and out and set up shop at their own 49 yard line with 5:41 remaining in the third quarter, Milford appeared poised to put the game away.
Defending champions die hard however, especially when they have defenses as stout as Woodbridge. The Blue Raiders forced a fumble and senior Michael Brewer returned for a touchdown and just like that the teams were tied at 17, with just under four minutes remaining in the third. The score would remain that way as the fourth quarter got underway.
With the Woodbridge defense stiffening, Milford had a difficult time finding running room. The result was a three and out for Milford and the same result for Woodbridge on their ensuing possession as time continued to tick away with the issue still very much in doubt.
Disaster finally struck for Milford as junior Tyron Mifflin had the ball stripped from him on a punt return, which set up Woodbridge deep inside Milford territory with just under nine minutes remaining in the game. The Blue Raiders took advantage of the gift as they threw a 25 yard touchdown pass to Brewer with 8:16 remaining. Woodbridge missed the extra point however and there was little doubt it was looming large.
Looking at Mifflin following the turnover, it was obvious it was tearing him apart. With a lot of football still to go, Mifflin needed to gather himself together. “Losing the ball like that was horrible, I couldn’t believe it happened” commented Mifflin. “The coaches were telling me and I knew, that I had to put it behind me. The game isn’t over till the clock reads zero, zero, zero.”
With Woodbridge having apparently solved the Bowman riddle, more than a few people had to wonder where the big plays Milford needed were going to come from. The answer came relatively quickly as Milford went with play-action once again. This time following the fake, Bowman did not hesitate, finding none other then Mifflin who turned the 17 yard toss into a 40 yard gain down to the Woodbridge 35 yard line with just over six minutes remaining. “We knew we had that play to use and Mifflin is the best guy to run it with. He’s got some of the best hands I’ve seen, so to me it was a no-brainier,” coach Shaun Strickland said.
On the next play Bowman handed the ball off to Price, who went nowhere. It would be the last time Bowman handed the ball off in the game. On the next play junior Eric Bennett was inserted at quarterback and Bowman shifted to tailback. The shift was subtle yet effective as Bowman raced off right-tackle for a 35 yard score that sent Briggs stadium into a frenzy. Gaglione converted the extra point as Milford regained the lead 24-23 with 6:23 remaining in the game.
The burden of preserving the lead and the victory that went with it now fell on the Buccaneers defense. Milford attempted a pooch kick which they failed to recover as Woodbridge took over on their own 36 yard line. The Blue raiders completed their first pass and were rapidly in Milford territory at the Buccaneers 47 yard line. Woodbridge kept the drive going via the ground as they gained a subsequent first down to the Milford 35 yard line. It was here that the Milford defense stood tall.
After a sack and a short gain, Woodbridge got a big completion down to the Milford 27 yard line, setting up a fourth and one situation. Woodbridge attempted to run up the gut and were stuffed by the Buccaneers who gladly took over possession. Disaster almost struck for Milford as a botched hand off put the ball on the carpet, placing the loose ball up for grabs. Sophomore offensive lineman Zyair Toledo collected it however as Milford was able to punt the ball away with 2:20 remaining. Woodbridge took over at the Milford 45 yard and could do nothing with it as Milford finally ended the issue with one last sack on a fourth down play. Milford took a knee three times to secure their first playoff victory since 2008.
The Buccaneers will travel up north as they will battle Wilmington Friends in a game to take place at Tower Hill. The Quakers handed Milford a devastating loss in the opening round of last year’s tournament. “We know that they are a well coached a disciplined team that beat us last year, so we are going to need a great week of practice and go up there ready to play,” Bowman stated.
The game is scheduled to start at 2pm.
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