By Kevin Eickman
Last year when the Milford Buccaneers traveled to Lake Forest for the annual “Battle of the Bell” they came from two touchdowns down, only to fall on a Spartan field goal in a crushing 31-28 defeat on the game’s final play.
This year may have been even more heart wrenching. With Milford afforded multiple opportunities to put the game away, it simply couldn’t get it done. No matter the chance, be it on offense or defense, the Bucs could not put their rivals away. In the end, the squandered opportunities along with the determination of a Lake Forest squad seeking a Division II playoff berth to go along with bragging rights would find Milford on the wrong side of a 21-20 final at Briggs Stadium.
With just over three minutes left in the game, Lake took over possession at Milford’s 23-yard line trailing 20-14 after a series of Buccaneer miscues allowed the Spartans one final chance. The pressure was on the Milford defense, just one defensive stop and the Bell would be theirs, last year’s loss just a distant memory.
Spartan sophomore quarterback Damien Galindez had been virtually untouched the entire game. With Lake relying primarily on their running game, all of his pass attempts came on roll-outs, where the Buccaneers failed to pressure him and Galindez had some good looks down the field. On the game’s final series, Galindez was once again kept clean by his offensive line and when it counted the most, he didn’t miss. Every time the Buccaneers defense had a chance to end the game, they simply couldn’t get it done. In the end, it would be a seven-yard run by Galindez with 16.8 seconds remaining which would put the final nail in the Milford coffin. The difference in the game being one more successful extra point for the Spartans.
Milford’s offense had difficulty moving the ball early, with the two teams playing a field position battle. Through most of the first quarter, the Buccaneers found their backs to their own end zone. They were able to move the ball on the ground, gaining just enough ground to keep the field position battle from taking a scoring toll on them.
After escaping the first quarter scoreless, the Buccaneers got their first break of the game early in the second quarter as they pounced on a Lake fumble at the Milford 29.. The turnover immediately changed the mindset of the Buccaneer offense.
“When we were finally getting a little breathing room, I knew that we would be able to move the ball on them (Lake),” Milford coach Shaun Strickland said.
On its subsequent possession, Milford’s running game kicked it into high gear as senior Jabriah Luke and sophomore Marquis Gillis produced big chunk plays. The key play being a 55-yard Gillis run that set up Milford deep in Lake territory. MHS continued to pound the rock, with Luke closing the deal from three yards out to give Milford the lead at 7-0 midway through the second quarter.
The Buccaneers were presented a golden opportunity later in the quarter as they recovered another Lake fumble deep inside Spartan territory. Milford would be unable to move the ball and would turn the ball over on downs. The result would be the Buccaneers taking a 7-0 lead into the locker room.
Milford would double its advantage in the third quarter as sophomore quarterback Shawn Saxon connected on a long touchdown strike with fellow sophomore Kenny Reed down the right sideline. With the extra point, Milford had doubled its advantage to 14-0 with 8:36 remaining in the third quarter.
It was at this point Lake began to answer the challenge. While it did little on its next possession, the Spartans were able to force the Bucs into a three and out and take over the ball on their 26 with 2:36 remaining in the third quarter. Lake then showcased a textbook drive, converting on a key fourth and 10 to find themselves on the doorstep of Milford’s end zone. The Spartans would waste little time as Galindez would take it in from the six with just 33 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The score and conversion would put Lake back in the game at 14-7.
Milford would not be without an answer however, as the running game continued to churn out yardage. It would not take long to get the touchdown back as Luke would rip off a 46-yard touchdown run with just over nine minutes remaining in the game. A botched extra point would loom large as the Bucs would only be able to extend their lead to 20-7.
Things would fall apart on the ensuing kickoff as the Buccaneers decided to kick deep for the first time in the game. The result would be a disaster as Lake returned the kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown, bringing Lake right back in the game at 20-14 and setting up the late-game heroics of the Lake passing game, led by Galindez’s leadership.
The loss would hand Milford a losing season at 4-6, their first under Strickland. Looking back on the season and what could have been, Strickland commented “It’s obvious we have a lot of work to do, both the coaches and he players. We had our chances this year and made some key mistakes at some very bad times. There is nothing for us to do but get back in the weight room and become better as a football team.”
Sign up for you free digital subscription of The Weekly Review, delivered directly to your email every Tuesday morning. A quick cover-to-cover read to catch up on the news of the week and experience great stories about our local communities. Sign up for your free email subscription below.