By Kevin Eickman
This was a game a great many people had wanted to see for a long time: “The Battle of the Bucs.”
The teams share more than the Buccaneer name, they have both been quality teams in recent years. While Milford has moved up to Division I, Caravel has been an easy mark for D-I opponents.
Prior to the game Milford looked spirited and ready to go, the only question was, were they ready.
“There was a great deal of uncertainty heading into the game. Usually we have a couple of scrimmages to go along with our two weeks of camp. We didn’t have that luxury tonight, so we went into the game with a lot of questions,” Milford coach Shaun Strickland said.
By the end of the game, a great many of those questions would be answered following a 24-0 Milford season-opening win.
The Milford offense moved the ball well all game, both on the ground and through the air. On the ground, the rushing attack was spearheaded by a determined Marquis Gillis and his partner Aaron Sivels.
“The ground game was really solid tonight; it was everything we hoped it would be. I think the guys came close to 250 yards running, with Gillis around 150,” Strickland said.
Caravel would take the game’s opening possession into Milford territory, looking as if they had the Milford defense back on their heels. On fourth and short however, the Milford defense would stiffen and force a turnover on downs with 9:08 remaining in the first quarter.
While the Milford defense looked a little off on the first series, it did little to foreshadow the beat down the defense was going to lay on Caravel the rest of the game.
“Our defense really came to play tonight, you could really see the speed and tenacity during the game. As the game went on, you could really see their confidence grow as they settled down,” Strickland said.
On Milford’s first offensive series, it drove deep into Caravel territory, with Gillis carrying the ball most of the way. The drive would end in disappointment as Gillis would fumble at the Caravel 11-yard line.
“I knew I couldn’t get down on myself, I knew it was something we were going to be able to overcome. I just kept my focus and did my job the rest of the game and we got the win,” Gillis said.
The Milford defense would respond by forcing a three and out, setting up Milford with good field position at the Caravel 44-yard line. The offensive series was a continuation of Milford dominance up front, as it continued to pound the ball with quarterback Shawn Saxon mixing in some key intermediate passes.
Working the ball down to the Caravel 11, Milford once again turned to Gillis, who did not disappoint. Taking the ball headed to his right, Gillis was hit almost immediately, it would be the first of at least three tackles Gillis would run through as he opened the scoring with a bull of a touchdown run.
The extra point would give Milford a 7-0 advantage, with 42 seconds remaining in the first quarter “I really wanted the ball there, I wanted the touchdown and, in my heart, I knew they were not going to stop me,” Gillis said.
On the ensuing kickoff, Milford would recover the football with the line drive kick bouncing off one of one of Caravel’s front-line players. Unfortunately for Milford, it could do nothing on the offensive possession and punted back to Caravel, who would take possession at its own 35-yard line.
The Milford defense would strike quickly however, forcing a fumble allowing them to take over at the Caravel 48-yard line with 9:18 remaining in the first half.
Milford looked poised to double its advantage as its worked its way down to the Caravel two-yard line. It was then that Milford imploded.
On what was initial called a personal foul against Caravel, Milford players responded and then some, finding themselves all the way back at the Caravel 25-yard line.
“We knew coming in that we would have some mental mistakes, but our guys really lost focus there. It’s simply not the way to act, you can’t hurt your own team with mistakes like that,” Strickland said.
Milford would end up turning the ball over on downs at the Caravel 30-yard line. The Milford defense would bail out the offense however, forcing a fumble on Caravel’s very next play.
This time Milford would not let its good fortune go to waste. Converting a key fourth and three play on a pass from Saxon to Rafael Mejia for 10 yards to keep the drive going.
The drive would culminate on a five-yard touchdown run by Sivels with the PAT, Milford doubled its advantage to 14-0 with 2:38 remaining in the first half.
With the Milford defense still standing tall, Caravel did nothing on the ensuing possession.
Milford would set up shop on its own 45-yard line with 1:30 remaining in the half. Running its two-minute offense, Milford would work the ball down to the Caravel five-yard line with two seconds remaining.
Landan Hajek would make a 21-yard field goal sending the teams to the locker rooms with Milford holding a 17-0 advantage.
“Hajek is like a Swiss Army Knife out there, he made some key receptions tonight, made his PATs and connected on the key field goal as the half came to an end. It’s really great to have a player like that on this team,” Strickland said.
The Milford defense would continue to dominate in the second half, with Caravel unable to generate any offense. Milford would close out the scoring as Gillis recorded his second touchdown of the game from 10 yards out, as Milford pressed its advantage to 24-0.
One of the key takeaways from the game was the work turned in by Saxon. The jump he has made from his sophomore to junior season looks to be huge. His pocket presence and play awareness were on display the whole game.
“I’ve worked very hard on my footwork and understanding of what defenses are doing and I hope to continue to improve. The line was great tonight, I was very comfortable in passing situations, my offensive line did a real great job tonight.”
Milford was scheduled to play Woodbridge next Friday, but because the Division II school was forced to shut down all school activities due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the Buccaneers appear to have an open date.
Strickland hopes Milford can find an opponent for next week: “There may be a team out there looking for a game and if we can make it happen, we will.”