By Kevin Eickman
In a game that was a battle from the start, full of big hits and big plays, it would be the Milford Buccaneers who would emerge with the 15-6-win last Friday at Briggs Stadium. The visiting Laurel Bulldogs, moving up from Division 1 following two state titles, came ready to play. It was evident early on; this was not going to be a walkover for Milford as Laurel set the tone with hard-hitting defense and an offense that always looked on the verge of breaking the Bucs.
With Laurel electing to take the ball, it started the game’s first series at 24. From there, the Bulldogs proceeded to march straight down the field, with a good push from their offensive line they found themselves poised to take the lead. It was there that the Milford defense would stiffen, a pattern that would repeat itself for most of the game.
After Milford stopped Laurel after the Bulldogs’ opening drive, the Buccaneers had some early success with their running game. After a pair of first downs however, the Milford drive would stall, and the Bucs would be forced to punt the ball away. The amazing part of the two possessions was that they used up the entirety of the first quarter as both teams were dedicated to the running game.
Milford would take over at midfield following a Laurel punt and proceeded to put together the first of what would be two solid offensive drives of the evening. Mixing in a little passing, the senior running back combination of Charles Shorts and DenNare Horsey would score the game’s first points as Horsey would take it in from 10 yards out with 5:39 remaining in the first half. With the extra point kick from senior Neysen Legros, Milford had a 7-0 lead and looked to be ready to take control of the game. Laurel, however, had other ideas.
Starting at its 45, Laurel proceeded to march straight down the field. While Milford tried all it could, the speed and elusiveness of the Bulldog running backs was on full display as they answered the Buccaneers touchdown with 1:29 remaining in the first half. A failed two-point conversion attempt would loom large throughout the remainder of the game as Milford still held a 7-6 advantage.
While most teams would have been happy going into the locker room with a 7-6 lead, this year’s version of the Buccaneers has thrived in the up-tempo offense. The efficiency of that offense was on full display as after Milford took possession of the ball on its 35 and in hurry-up mode it moved the ball effectively. As they had worked their way to the Laurel 30 and 40 seconds remained in the half, the stage was set for some Milford magic. On second down, Milford sent its wingman in motion to the right side. While this was nothing new for Milford, when running out of the same formation earlier in the game, Milford offensive coordinator Quinn Abbott had noticed that the Laurel free safety followed the motion man across the formation. Abbott promptly put a $ sign on his play card.
Milford ran the same play again and the Laurel safety followed as expected, the result would be a wide-open Jaleel Freshwater, senior tight end streaking uncovered on a go route. All that was left for Milford was for senior quarterback John Hudson to put the ball on target, which he did. Following the two-point conversion, Milford had made it a two-score game as the teams headed to the locker room “It’s a play we always practice and to see it come open like that was really awesome,” Hudson said. “I just had to make sure I put the ball where it needed to be and I knew that Jaleel would do the rest.”
While a scoreless second half might sound uneventful, the Bulldogs would not go away. While the Milford offense occasionally moved the ball, Laurel always seemed to be moving the ball. Laurel would miss a pair of short-range field goals after driving into Milford territory on two separate occasions. The best last chance for Laurel came with about five minutes remaining in the game as they drove to the Milford eight. The Buccaneers would come up big however, as, senior Elijah Lake would record a crucial sack for an eight-yard Bulldog loss.
Following three straight Laurel incompletions, Milford would take possession on downs and run out the clock from there “This game was not about stats tonight, it was about heart and both teams had it. We didn’t put up big numbers and we had our back up against the wall a few times it really just came down to a couple of plays,” Bucs coach Jed Bell said. “We knew Laurel was going to leave it all on the field, you really have to tip your hat to them. They are a team that will give any team fits.”
After a crazy schedule to begin the season, including three noon games north of The Canal and a short week Thursday night loss at Woodbridge, Milford (5-2) is looking forward to a normal Friday night slate for the rest of the season “I believe with a regular prep schedule the rest of the way out we can get into a rhythm and compete against some tough teams,” Bell said.
Milford will host Sussex Tech Friday with a 7 p.m. start.
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