By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — With forward progress proving tricky to come by, Milton-Union opened up the bag of tricks.
Blake Smith — who already threw an 85-yard touchdown pass to tie the score — hit Tommy Smith with a pass, only to have Smith pitch to Kaleb Rue for a 60-yard hook-and-ladder touchdown that gave the Bulldogs their first lead of Friday night’s game midway through the fourth quarter. The Milton-Union defense came up with a big stop on the other end, and the Bulldogs held on for a stunning 21-7 victory over the host Miami East Vikings on opening night.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Bulldogs (1-0) against the Vikings, and it also marks the first time in the past two seasons that Milton-Union has held an above-.500 record.
“Big time, a big time win,” Milton-Union coach Mark Lane said. “We told the kids at halftime that the team that wanted it more and was more mentally strong was going to come away with it. And that’s what they did. They went out there and just refused to lose.”
Miami East (0-1) looked dominant on its first drive of the game, marching the ball 88 yards on 14 plays and finishing it off with a 3-yard touchdown run by senior Kurt Brower. That drive chewed up eight minutes of the first quarter, and the Vikings led 7-0.
“We’re grinders. That’s our M.O.,” Miami East coach Max Current said. “To be successful as a team like that, you can’t make mistakes — penalties, mental errors, execution breakdowns. And that was our only drive where we didn’t have any of those.”
But that was where the score remained at halftime, as that was the only drive East managed on first downs on in the first half. Milton-Union, meanwhile, only gained a total of 46 first-half yards — but the Bulldogs’s best was yet to come.
With the Vikings still nursing a seven-point lead, Blake Smith hit Tommy Smith in stride with a bomb on second-and-20 from the Bulldogs’ own 15-yard line, and Tommy Smith took it the rest of the way to tie the score at 7-7 with 9:31 left in the third.
“We’ve got some explosive kids that made plays,” Lane said. “We executed on certain plays, and those turned into big ones. We’ve got to get to where we’re executing on every play. That way we can drive the ball more effectively.”
“Three plays. Their offense hit three plays on us, and that was it,” Current said. “We gave up three big plays, and we didn’t have any of our own. Our big plays, we’d get tackled at the 20 and then have a penalty and not be able to finish the drive.”
The Vikings drove onto the Milton side of the field, but Joey Swafford picked off a Miami East pass on third-and-15, taking it back to the Bulldog 46. The teams traded punts twice each from there, though, until the Bulldogs had the ball third-and-9 from their own 40.
And that’s when the Smiths pulled off some more magic.
Blake Smith found Tommy Smith open, and the latter lateraled to Rue, catching the Vikings completely off guard. Rue scored the 60-yard touchdown to give Milton-Union the lead, 14-7 with 5:49 left in the game.
“Great play, great execution and great blocking,” Lane said. “It looked like only two guys made that play happen, but all 11 guys executing at once make that play work.”
“That was a good call, that hook-and-ladder,” Current said. “Other than those big plays, though, they weren’t able to drive on us. We’ve just got to eliminate those big plays moving forward.”
Miami East had one last chance as Braxton Donaldson hit Brower for a 43-yard gain on a screen pass to set the Vikings up first-and-10 on the Bulldog 20. But that was as far as they got, as a short run, a false start penalty and some incomplete and dropped passes gave the ball back to the Bulldogs — and Zac Shields broke off a 78-yard touchdown run with 2:08 left to seal it.
“That was a great play by them,” Lane said of the Vikings’ screen pass. “But our kids, like championship fighters, put their chins down, absorbed that punch and threw it back.”
Both teams are on the road in Week 2, with Milton-Union traveling to Oakwood and Miami East opening Cross County Conference play at National Trail.
“We’ve got to get back to work and clean up the finer details of the game,” Current said. “It’s hard to grind it out when you’ve got to overcome those little mistakes. But that’s why we have 10 games. This one hurts, but we’ve just got to forget about it, focus on our league play and worry about National Trail.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.