By Kevin Eickman
It all finally seemed right for the Milford Buccaneers. The early game miscues were left behind and it looked as if momentum shifted in their direction. With just over three minutes remaining in the game, Milford overcame a 14 point third quarter deficit and knotted the game at 28-28, courtesy of a 19 yard touchdown run from junior Jabraih Luke. With the Milford defense finally finding their footing, there looked to be little reason to doubt that the Buccaneers and Spartans would be heading to overtime.
Lake Forest had other ideas however. The Spartans methodically moved the ball down the field as they wisely manipulated the clock. Every time the Lake Forest offense needed a big play they came up with one. On the flip side, every time the Bucs needed a stop, every time they needed to come up big, they could not do it. While it looked like Milford might be able to force a long field goal attempt to win the game, a lapse on defense allowed a huge 18 yard pass play by Lake Forest. This allowed kicker Kade Collins a much more realistic 32 yard attempt with five seconds left in the game. The Spartan junior did not blink as he put the game winning field goal right through the uprights.
“We had a few lapses on defense tonight and they cost us,” Milford coach Shaun Strickland stated. “Collins still had to make the kick, but we would much rather have had him trying a 50 yarder in a spot like that. He was good from 32 so there is nothing left to do but congratulate him.”
One week following a tough loss to Delmar, Milford looked to finish out the season with a flourish as they attempted to defeat Lake for a third consecutive year. Things seemed to start nicely for the Buccaneers after the two squads exchanged punts early in the game and Milford was able to recover a muffed punt at the Lake 12 yard line. One play later junior Rodney Robinson covered the distance right up the middle as Milford took a 7-0 lead with 9:10 remaining in the first quarter. Following up with the PAT, senior Jonathan Gaglione was perfect on the night on extra points.
Lake left little doubt that they were in it for the long hall as they took the ensuing kickoff and went down the field in less than two minutes. The Spartans running game was strong in the first half and as they knotted the score at 7-7, the problems for Milford were just beginning. On the ensuing kickoff Lake Forest recovered an on-side kick and kept a dizzy Milford defense on the field.
With a lack of composure, which the Buccaneers had been susceptible to all season, they committed two 15 yard penalties to aid Lake forest in their quest to double their advantage. The Spartans did just that as they punched it in from five yards out to take the lead 14-7 with 4:40 still to go in the first quarter.
The Milford offense responded in kind as they took the ensuing kickoff 68 yards, implementing a mixture of pass and run. The final play of the drive came as freshman quarterback Shawn Saxon connected on a 25 yard touchdown strike on a third and 11 on the first play of the second quarter. “Saxon has gotten better from week to week. You have seen his skill grow and you can see his natural ability as a leader,” Strickland said. “Everything we have given him he has been able to handle, he is only going to get better with all the hard work he puts in.” With the score tied at 14, the game seemed as if it might turn into a track meet. As Lake was about to demonstrate, it would be nothing of the sort.
For what seemed like the entire second quarter, it looked as if the Milford defense was over matched. One play after another they drove the ball down the Buccaneers throats, as the defense seemed to be searching for answers. It all started on the ensuing kickoff as Lake went on a six minute drive as they once again took the advantage at 21-14.
After Milford could do nothing on their next possession it looked as if disaster was about to strike as Lake once again pounded the rock against the Bucs. Working their way down to the Bucs four yard line it was only a mistake in clock management that prevented Lake from adding to their lead as the teams entered the locker rooms with Lake leading 21-14.
Milford recieved the ball to start the second half and any hopes of quickly equalizing the score were dashed as they could do little on the possession and were forced to punt. On Lake’s very first play of the half they would take the ball outside and race 74 yards to double their advantage 28-14 and leave the Buccaneers searching for answers with just over nine minutes remaining in the third quarter.
When they needed it most the Buccaneers were able to put together a time consuming drive of their own as Robinson would score from seven yards out as Milford would close the gap to 28-21 with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter. From there both defensive units took over until the games frantic four minutes.
While it was a bitter defeat for the Buccaneers, it was double depressing for Strickland who completed his fourth season and will now see his first group of seniors graduate. “To have this great group of seniors come up short in their final game is very disappointing,” Strickland stated. “When you step back and take a look at it we made a run to the state title game last year and they are great kids. It was great to have coached them and I am going to miss them.”
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