By Kevin Eickman
It’s not often you get a chance at redemption in the game of football, but that is exactly the opportunity that presented itself to the Milford Buccaneers this past Saturday. After having dispatched Woodbridge in their opening round game the previous week, Milford traveled north to battle Wilmington Friends, the same Quaker team that ended Milford’s playoff hopes last season at a windy and wet Briggs stadium. This year Milford was able to exact some revenge, with a State Championship tilt against Delmar on the agenda for next Saturday.
The game took place at Saint Mark’s High School on an uncharacteristically warm November day in front of packed and enthusiastic stands. From the games very first possession, Milford made it quite clear that if Friends wanted to move the ball they were going to have to do it through the air. The Buccaneers defensive front was dominant for much of the afternoon, with that first series culminating an a three and out.
With Milford having chosen to give Friends offense the ball to start the game, forcing the punt early in the game played right into their plan. Milford was able to move the ball particularly well to start the game, gaining multiple first downs on their opening drive. When the drive stalled at the Friends 42 yard line, Buccaneers junior Jonathan Gaglione kicked a marvelous directional punt, pinning Friends at their own one yard line. The Buccaneers defense would force another three and out, setting up Milford at the Friends 31 yard line.
Given great field position, it didn’t take long for Milford to take advantage of it. Buccaneers senior David Bowman took a hand off up the middle as the Milford offensive line opened up a huge hole allowing Bowman to break loose. The only thing that stopped Bowman was the referee’s whistle as he crossed the goal line with the game’s first touchdown. The successful extra point by Gaglione gave Milford the 7-0 advantage with 2:14 remaining in the first quarter.
The Buccaneer defensive dominance would continue on the next Friends drive as Milford once again forced the hosts to punt. On their next possession, Milford looked like they were going to break the game open as Bowman turned in a highlight real 45 yard touchdown run. After bouncing outside to his left, Bowman turned on the jets and flew down the hash marks, breaking two tackles along the way. Once again, Gaglione converted and Milford doubled their advantage to 14-0 with 9:45 remaining in the half.
While Milford would once again venture deep into Friends territory in the first half, penalties would cost them any further opportunity for points “We had some drives stall today because of mistakes and we just can’t do that against Delmar,” Coach Shaun Strickland said. “We have to focus on cleaning up on those things and doing what we need to do.” Milford would have to be content with taking the 14-0 lead into the locker room.
Second half adjustments on the part of Friends severely limited the Buccaneers rushing attack as the game turned into a battle of field position. While the Milford defense still looked stout, it seemed just a matter of time before Friends would put something together. That time would come late in the fourth quarter as Friends would put together a five yard drive, all through the air, culminating in a 21 yard touchdown pass with 4:52 left in the game.
The Milford coaches were less than pleased to say the least, but also corrected the issue immediately. “We kind of let them down on that drive. There was just no way we should have allowed them to score a touchdown as that easily,” junior Tyron Mifflin said. “The coaches got us together, calmed us down, we regained our focus and shut them down.”
Milford looked to have gained a crucial first down on their next possession only to have it nullified by penalty. Gaglione got off a big kick, however, and forced Friends to start from their own 35 yard line with just 2:56 remaining in the game and no time outs remaining. Setting up a chance for the Milford defense to seal the deal. On first down, sophomore Augustin Bevensky got a sack for a 10 yard loss. On second and 20, Friends executed a marvelous screen pass that appeared to have Milford fooled completely. With three blockers in front of him, junior running back Peyton McNeil looked like he might run forever. Then suddenly a streaking Bowman dove in and grabbed an ankle, limiting the damage to a 12 yard gain. Milford would force incompletion’s on the next two plays to settle the issue for good.
The victory sets up a rematch against a Delmar team that took Milford to the woodshed less than a month ago. Traveling down to Wildcat country with a chance to claim the Henlopen South title, Milford lost 35-10. When asked if Milford had even bothered to look at the tape or simply bury it, Strickland responded, “We looked at it about five or ten times. Hey they played great. They have a great coach and those guys play great. Those guys don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
While playing in a championship game is important, Strickland is already taking joy in the fact that he will get to coach his seniors one last time. “For me the biggest thing is one more week with David Bowman, Tyrek Benson, Jordan Waters. That’s all I wanted, I’m not ready to let those guys go yet,” Strickland stated.
The championship game is this Saturday, December 2 at the University of Delaware. Kick-off is scheduled for 5:30pm.
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