By Kevin Eickman
Last Thursday evening at Briggs Stadium, Milford coach Jed Bell addressed his team following a hard-fought battle between two teams that laid it all on the line. It wasn’t easy for him, but it was even harder for the players who had hoped to snap Lake Forest’s two-game winning streak for the “Battle of The Bell.” The pain was clearly visible on the faces of his players, especially the seniors. While the Buccaneers may have lost a football game to their heated rival, in time they will look back as the season in which they were part of when Milford started to change “The Culture.”
The pain felt by Milford is a good thing, it was there when they lost a tough game at Delmar the previous week and it was amplified when it lost to Lake. All of this, however, should be taken in the proper perspective. Milford is relevant again, it is doing things the right way, the players are leaving it all on the field. When I asked Bell what his goals were for this year, his ample was simple. “I want to change the way we do things. I want the players to invest in the program, represent their school and our town with pride and dignity.”
This was the message Bell shared with his players, this is what he was telling them after a heartbreaking 48-34 defeat. “Yeah, it’s going to hurt, it’s supposed to. But when the hurt starts to go away you are going to come away with one realization, we can do this.” Bell continued. “For the seniors who stepped up this year, I can’t thank you enough. You helped build the foundation for the future, you are the reason we aren’t losers anymore. We may have lost tonight, but I am proud of each and every one of you.”
While the game started off fast with Milford driving right down the field for the game’s first touchdown on a 23-yard run by senior DenNare Horsey. A failed extra point would give Milford a short lived 6-0 lead, following a failed two-point conversion. Lake would answer right back, with a solid running game that would rule the evening. With a successful extra point, Lake took the lead 7-6.
What would follow for the remainder of the first half can best be described as less than great football, as after both teams exchanged fumbles it would be Lake who would extend its advantage on a 50-yard touchdown pass to wide-open sophomore Josiah Smith. It would be the first of many big plays by the Spartans on the night, but it was their ground game that would win the game for them. With the first half coming to a close, Lake would drive 75 yards and score again to make it 21-6.
The game would appear over as Lake would take the second half kickoff, starting at midfield. It would take the Spartans just four plays to score again, extending their lead to 28-6 and making it appear as if the rout was on.
That would have been true in the past, but not on this night. Slowly but surely, Milford would find its footing. With a multitude of flags and some questionable calls, these Buccaneers never lost belief.
Lake would hold a 40-20 advantage as the third quarter was coming to a close. Milford senior Charles Shorts would throw the Buccaneers a lifeline with a 46-yard touchdown run with 8:31 remaining in the game to make it 40-28. While Lake would respond with a methodical drive, they would finally turn the ball over on downs with 5:27 left in the game.
Horsey would record another score on a long touchdown run with 3:34 left in the game. Although the two-point conversion would fail, Milford now had life trailing just 40-34. On the ensuing kickoff, Milford would try an onside kick and while the ball would be up for grabs, it would be Lake who would come away with it. On the very next play, Lake would put the final nail in the Milford coffin as senior Jaymeire Snell would take the ball on an end-around 50 yards for the game’s final touchdown. With the two-point conversion, Lake would post the game’s 48-34 final score.
The Buccaneers finish the season with a 6-4 record, their first winning season since 2017. While it is only year one of coach Bell’s tenure, make no mistake about it, Milford will continue to raise the bar. It was perhaps the final words that Bell said to his team that rang the most true. “Remember this feeling, this is what it feels like to care. Remember how you came back tonight when the deck was stacked against you. To you juniors, next year you will be seniors, you will be the leaders. It will be up to all of us to take the next step. Trust me, it isn’t automatic, it takes hard work. Next year we will work harder, next year we will be smarter. To this entire group, I can say it has been an honor to have coached you this season, but we are just getting started.”
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