By Josh Brown
WEST MILTON — Zac Shields entered Friday night needing an exceptional performance to set Milton-Union’s all-time career rushing record.
So he turned in a monster one.
Shields — needing a 100-yard night to break the record — had 181 yards and four touchdowns by halftime, becoming the most prolific running back in Milton-Union history as the Bulldogs piled up 435 rushing yards before the break en route to a 69-35 victory over Northridge Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
Going into the game, though, none of that was one Shields’ mind.
“My thoughts were just to beat Northridge,” he said. “That was my first thought, and then to just go on from there and see what happens.”
The outcome, though, turned out to never be in question.
With the win, Milton-Union improved to 2-2 and opened Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division play at 1-0, while Northridge fell to 0-4 and 0-1.
Shields had 181 yards and four scores on 11 carries by halftime and finished with 204 yards on the night, breaking the Milton-Union career rushing record held by Stephan Deeter. Robbie Grove added 177 yards on 10 carries and Connor Gostomsky had 73 yards by halftime, with all three going over 100 yards on the night in a dominant display marred only by penalties and the defense’s inability to stop the big play.
“We played well offensively,” Milton-Union coach Mark Lane said. “Defensively, we had some ugly plays where they hit big plays on us. They’ve got some really good athletes that hurt us. But we’ve got good running backs, and we’ve also got a really good offensive line. The guys got after it up front and played well.”
Shields and Grove got the Bulldogs off to a fast start. After Northridge was forced to punt on the game’s opening possession, Milton-Union went 70 yards on seven plays, including a 28-yard run by Grove to set up Shields’ first touchdown of the night. The Milton-Union senior carried two defenders the final five yards to put in a 19-yard touchdown to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead with 7:55 left in the quarter.
The Polar Bears were forced to punt again, and Shields returned it 50-plus yards for a touchdown — except that it was called back by a penalty, setting the Bulldogs up on the Northridge 50-yard line. Milton-Union was forced to punt, but Shields intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown — only to have that called back by a penalty, too, giving the Bulldogs the ball on the Northridge 24. Two plays later, though, Shields plowed over a Northridge defender to finish off a 6-yard touchdown and make it 14-0 with 3:49 left in the first. But 39 seconds later, Northridge’s Twon Harris broke a 52-yard touchdown run to cut the Milton lead to 14-7.
The Bulldogs answered with a six-play, 75-yard drive, keyed by a 42-yard run by Shields. Connor Gostomsky finished off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown to make it 20-7 — but Harris broke a 25-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 20-14 at the end of the first quarter.
Milton-Union then took the ball on a nine-play drive that went 51 yards, capped off by a 2-yard score by Gostomsky to make it 27-14 with 8:45 left in the half. And after a quick three-and-out by Northridge, Shields kicked off a short drive with an 11-yard run, putting him over the 100-yard ,ark on the night and giving him the record. Grove then broke a 44-yard run that set up his 15-yard touchdown run to make it a 20-point game at 34-14 with 6:44 on the clock.
“It was crazy,” Shields said of breaking the record. “I’ve been chasing Stephan Deeter’s record for the last three years. It’s been a goal since seventh grade, and I was just happy to break it.
“(It took) a lot of hard work. I’ve got to thank my offensive line for getting me there, and my coaches for giving me the chance to do what I do.”
“The first thing he did after he broke the record was thank the whole team for accomplishing that goal,” Lane said of Shields. “He’s the epitome of a Milton football player, and he’s exactly what we want out of a Milton football player — he’s an undersized kid who just plays his heart out and has worked hard for what he’s got.”
The Bulldog defense then got a stop on fourth-and-2 on its own 29, and on the fourth play of the ensuing drive Shields took a 50-yard touchdown run straight up the gut to make it 41-14 with 1:35 left in the half. But Northridge answered as quarterback Mason Hardin hit Daryl Story in stride on the first play of its drive to cut the lead to 41-21 with 1:17 on the clock.
Not to be outdone, Grove broke a 44-yard run that set up a 19-yard touchdown run by Shields to make it 48-21 with 56.6 seconds on the clock — with the teams combining for three touchdowns in a 40-second period. The Polar Bears had a touchdown called back by a penalty, too, and the Bulldogs held a 27-point lead at the half.
The Bulldogs couldn’t get the running clock going to start the third quarter, though, as they were forced to punt on the opening drive of the second half. Hardin then scored on an 8-yard run to make it 48-28 — only to have Milton-Union quarterback William Morris break a 35-yard touchdown run to push the lead back to 55-28 with 4:33 left in the third. And after Alex Moore recovered a Northridge fumble, Brandyn Dunn scored on a 5-yard run to put the Bulldogs up 62-28 and turn on the running clock with 2:35 left in the third.
And with 7:49 left in the fourth, Jake Swafford broke a 45-yard touchdown run to make it 69-28 Milton-Union. Harris broke a 50-yard touchdown run to cut it to 69-28 with 4:43 to go, but the Bulldogs were able to run out the clock.
“This was pretty big,” Shields said. “We’re slowly building the bricks back up. Those two losses (to start the season) were kind of tough on us, but we’ve kicked it back into gear and started playing Bulldog football.”
“We’ve got to keep learning. We’ve got to keep getting better,” Lane said. “We’ve got young kids that just need to keep getting better and keep moving forward. We’ve got a tough team coming in next week.”
Milton-Union hosts Preble Shawnee in Week 5.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.