By Kevin Eickman
The final week of the football season featured a pair of games, with two very different outcomes. On Monday evening, the Buccaneers defeated Lake Forest 29-12 to win The Battle of the Bell. Just four days later however, Milford would find itself at Sussex Central, facing a Golden Knights team looking for a DIAA tournament spot.
While the Buccaneers would find themselves on the wrong end of a 28-16 score, the effort they gave after all the team had been through over the last three weeks was outstanding. Forced to shutdown the program for 10 days, having a very limited number of players available, could have made it easy for Milford to just mail in the season finale. But this Friday night, for one last night the Buccaneers came to play. “Look, we aren’t the only team in Delaware that has had to deal with all the things that went on during this crazy season. However, seeing how hard our guys played over the last two games made me extremely proud. We don’t make excuses, we come out and give it all we have. I couldn’t be more pleased with the effort I saw from our team tonight,” Buccaneers coach Shaun Strickland stated.
The game started well for Milford as senior Marquis Gillis recovered a Central fumble at midfield. Gillis ran the ball deep into Central territory setting up Milford with a golden opportunity at the host’s 15-yard line to start the proceedings. It would take just two plays for junior running back Aaron Sivels to take the ball in from five yards out, as Milford jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead just three minutes into the game.
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Sussex Central would waste little time responding, as it set up shop on its 40-yard line. From there, the Golden Knights would demonstrate a prolific running attack, which Milford had difficulties stopping for most of the game. Upon arriving at the Milford doorstep, Central would waste little time tying the game as senior Phillip Stratton would take in from four yards out, his first of three touchdowns on the evening.
Milford would move the ball well on the ensuing possession, getting to midfield before disaster struck. Buccaneer junior quarterback Shawn Saxon was strip-sacked from behind, with Central able to recover the ball. It would take just a few plays before Stratton busted a 35-yard jaunt up the gut to double its advantage to 14-7.
The Buccaneers hung tough however, with Saxon connecting to sophomore Ryan Mejia on a 40-yard completion down to the Central three-yard line. From there, the Golden Knights defense would stiffen, pushing the Bucs back and forcing them to settle for a 22-yard field goal by senior Landon Hajek. Milford had narrowed the gap to 14-10, with just over four minutes remaining in the first half.
Once again Central would respond. Gifted with great field position at the 50-yard line, the Knight’s ground game continued to churn out yardage. Just as it seemed Milford had a chance to stop Central, the Bucs would give up a 15-yard touchdown pass on third and 8. The teams would enter halftime with Milford trailing 21-10.
With both teams having difficulty moving the ball through a rapidly moving third quarter, the score would remain the same as the teams entered the final stanza.
Central would once again get its high-octane running game going, pounding it down the field and chewing up a huge amount of clock along the way, extending its advantage with just under four minutes remaining on a touchdown run from 15 yards out by Stratton made it 28-10, with the game winding down.
Milford would respond quickly however as Saxon connected with senior Thomas Leighty with 2:59 remaining in the game. The two-point conversion would fail however, as the game’s final score of 28-16 was reached.
Central took the ball and never gave it back. In fact, it looked as if it would score on a huge 50-yard running play deep into Milford territory. The only saving grace was Mejia chasing down the Central running back and making the tackle. “Mejia is a kid who has come a long way this season, he has the kind of heart you want to see in a player. It is very important that he continue to improve.” From there, Central would take a knee and run out the clock.
In the crazy season that was Milford, Strickland was asked what he thought about his team had done during the year “I am very proud of how we stuck together, how we kept on trying to get on the field, how we kept on not giving up in games we were trailing. This team has been through a lot and for them to still be punching till the very end says a lot about how much they love this game.”