By Garth Shanklin
The postseason scenario entering the final home game of the season for the Milford Eagles on Friday, Oct. 27 against West Clermont was a simple one.
The Eagles had already clinched a playoff berth, more than likely due to the team’s win over Anderson the week prior. A victory over West Clermont not only would prevent the Wolves from making their first playoff appearance, but it would give Milford an outright conference title for the first time ever.
It was not to be, however, as on a rainy Friday night the Wolves rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to knock off the Eagles 35-28 and force a three-way tie at the top of the ECC standings.
Early on, Milford was in control. The Eagles scored first in the game on a run by quarterback Blake King with 6:08 left in the first quarter. King struck again for another touchdown scamper early in the second, giving the Eagles their 14-0 margin.
West Clermont answered, with Jacob Kilgore scoring on a two-yard run to cut the lead to 14-7. On the ensuing Milford possession, Gunnar Johnson blocked the Eagle punt, which was recovered by Joey Floccari for an eight-yard touchdown.
The Wolves took their first lead on their next drive, a nine-play, 78-yard march that ended with a 10-yard touchdown run by Jaob Klgore.
The Eagles answered just before halftime, with King hitting a diving Cameron Kells on a 24-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone right before halftime to tie the game at 21.
Rain continued to fall as the offenses stalled in the third quarter. In the fourth, Austin Maham scored on an eight-yard run to put the Wolves back on top 28-21.
Milford evened the game pm a 64-yard touchdown pass from King to Jake Ayler 19 seconds later to tie the game back up at 28 each.
West Clermont broke that tie for a third time after the teams traded interceptions. West Clermont scored off the interception on Kilgore’s third touchdown of the game for the 35-28 lead.
Milford had a chance to tie the game late, blocking a West Clermont punt to set up first and goal from the six, but the Eagles could get nowhere, and West Clermont forced a turnover on downs to run out the clock.
King finished the game having completed 11 passes in 31 attempts for Milford, collecting 163 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the process. He was also intercepted twice.
King also led the Eagle rushing attack, gaining 50 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Kells had just 13 yards on eight carries for the Eagles.
Ayler led all Milford receivers with 81 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. Evan Baugh (two for 27) and Connor Foster (two for 16) each had a pair of receptions, with Kells adding two for 25 yards and a score.
For West Clermont, Tyler Steinker only attempted five passes, completing one for 17 yards to Trevor Grant. Steinker was intercepted once, as was running back Chayce Gambrell.
Ryan Cann and Austin Maham each recorded 18 rushing attempts for the Wolves, with Cann recording 72 yards and Maham posting a whopping 207 yards and a touchdown.
Kilgore carried the ball 10 times for 42 yards and three touchdowns, with Steinker adding five carries for 28 yards.
Defensively, Austin Price and Matt Lewis came up with interceptions for the Wolves. Floccari and Joseph Wahl combined for two sacks, and Floccari also forced a fumble recovered by Robby Rinckel. Jacob Turner recovered a fumble for Milford, with Sam Pickett and Baugh each recording an interception for the Eagles.
Milford head coach Tom Grippa said, much like the team’s win over Anderson the week prior, this game featured a pair of close teams searching for a win.
“There were two pretty even teams fighting it out, just like last week,” Grippa said. “We came out on the short end of it. You tip your hat to West Clermont, they played well.”
The Wolves as a team rushed for 367 yards, something Grippa said the Eagles had to do a better job defending.
“We didn’t defend it very well,” Grippa said. “The Wing-T is football. We have to get under blocks. We didn’t tackle, we didn’t do basic football fundamentals.”
The weather didn’t help Milford any, with the rain making it hard to complete passes down the field. Grippa acknowledged that, but also said the team could not make up excuses for the defeat.
“The rain helped them and hurt us,” Grippa said. “No excuses though, they played great.”
West Clermont head coach Nick Ayers said being able to take the team from the early stages of combining the program to a first-round playoff game is a great feeling.
“It feels awesome,” Ayers said. “I feel awesome for these kids and this community. We have a lot to work on, I have a lot to work on as a staff. To see these kids get the reward of such hard work and such adverse situations, they’ve thrived. It’s great.”
One of those adverse situations was the 14-0 deficit early in the game where the Wolves were able to recover thanks to a defensive gameplan that worked very well.
“We brought pressure, and that’s what really benefitted us,” Ayers said. “Coach Wilson, our coordinator, did a great job of doing that. We’ll just keep working, they’re a great football team.”
The win improves the West Clermont conference record to 7-1, the same as Milford and Anderson, meaning all three teams will actually share the league title. Ayers said sharing the championship isn’t ideal, though it is an easy way o show just huh
“It’s a share,” Ayers said. “You never really like that, but maybe things were meant to be. We came here and fought hard. The elements didn’t bother us. Milford’s a great team, Anderson’s a great team and we’re in a great conference.”
Both teams qualified for week 11 and the Ohio High School Athletic Association playoffs as the matchups were released on Sunday, Oct. 29.
The Eagles drew the number five seed in Division I, Region IV and will take on Sycamore at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 for a trip to the regional semifinals.
West Clermont drew a road trip to Mason with the sixth-overall seed.
The Wolves’ first-ever playoff game is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start on Friday, Nov. 3.