By Kevin Eickman
It has been a tough season for Milford Buccaneers football. Between canceled games and limited practice time, nothing has been given to them. Over the last two seasons, Milford had lost the annual Battle of the Bell game in excruciating fashion. Losing the two previous renditions of the annual contest by a total of four points, last season they lost it on the final play of the game as Lake Forest hit a game-winning field goal as time expired. This year was different however as the Buccaneers simply took it to Lake with a 29-12 thumping.
Make no mistake about it, this was not an easy road for Milford to get to this point. Having not played a game in 17 days and with only two practices prior to the game, there were a lot of questions about the Bucs. When asked about the gap between games and lack of practice, Milford coach Shaun Strickland responded, “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about all the time off. The guys came out real hungry tonight and we never took our foot off the gas. We played very tough tonight and give credit to the players, they were just as strong at the end of the game as they were in the beginning of it.”
Lake started the game with good field position at their 45-yard line. The Spartans moved the ball well against the Bucs, quickly finding themselves deep inside Milford territory. It was at their own 10-yard line where the Milford defense stiffened and force a turnover on downs. It was a pattern that repeated itself at key points throughout the game, as the Milford defense came up big every time they needed to.
The real strength for Milford came from the running game. As the season has progressed, the running game has become stronger and stronger, with senior Marquis Gillis and junior Aaron Sivels keeping opposing defenses off balance. It was Sivels who opened the games scoring as he burst through a hole on the left side of the Milford offense line and scampered 27 yards for the touchdown. Following the PAT, Milford found itself up 7-0 with 5:26 remaining in the first quarter. More importantly, it was a sign of big things to come for Sivels, as he recorded three touchdowns on the night.
“The line did a great job tonight, they were really opening some big holes for us. When they do their job like they did, we need to make sure we deliver in the backfield and we did that tonight.”
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In an otherwise perfect first half of football, Milford made its only mistake of the stanza as they turned the ball over to Lake at mid-field with 9:50 remaining in the first half. The Spartans proceeded to march down the field, finding the endzone on a run from two yards out with 5:38 remaining until halftime. The Buccaneers stood tall on a two-point conversion attempt and maintained the lead at 7-6.
The Buccaneers quickly responded as Sivels once again burst through the left side, the only thing that stopped him was the goal line he found 58 yards later. Combined with a successful two-point conversion run from Gillis, Milford stretched their advantage to 15-6 with 4:20 still remaining in the half.
On the ensuing possession, the Milford defense forced the Spartans into punt formation. A poor snap gave the Bucs outstanding field position as they set up shop at the Lake 43 yard line, with just over two minutes remaining before halftime. It took Milford just two plays to score as Gillis took a carry to the Lake 15. From there, Sivels finished up his hat-trick as he burst right up the middle for the score, extending Milford’s lead to 22-6 with 1:48 left in the half.
The Spartans refused to go quietly to the locker room however as they drove to the Milford doorstep, with a chance to score from the five-yard line on the final play of the first half. The pass into the endzone was broken up by Milford sophomore defender Dwayne Witbank.
“That was a big defensive stand to end the half. We needed that stop, we really didn’t want them to get back in the game,” Strickland said.
The game appeared to change a bit in the second half as the Milford offense sputtered a bit while having their backs pinned to their own endzone. With Lake’s defense stiffening, their offense stepped up as freshman quarterback Jonathan Tyndall connected with junior Jalen Morris on a beautiful 38-yard touchdown pass. The failed two-point conversion, however, only cut the deficit to 10 with 1:37 left in the third quarter, with Lake never getting any closer.
Milford closed it out with Gillis taking the ball 48 yards on the ground for the game’s final touchdown with 10:19 left in the game. Speaking with Gillis, it was clear this game meant a great deal to him.
“The way we lost to them in the last two years, that sticks with you. When it looked like they were trying to make a comeback, we stood tall and extended the lead,” he stated. “As a senior, you want to win the bell, it’s a great feeling and I’m so happy to be a part of it.”
Another player who deserves recognition is junior quarterback Shaun Saxon, who made some key audible calls that enabled the big runs that Milford was able to get. “They changed the way they were playing up front a little bit in the second half. Once I figured it out, it was just a matter of making the right call and executing,” said Saxon.