By Josh Brown
WEST MILTON — Bret Pearce’s return to the Milton-Union sidelines came at a frustrating time.
Miami East — the No. 1 seed in the Bulldogs’ playoff region last year — was the team’s season opener.
And the Vikings, who return all but a handful of players off of that 9-2 team from last season, flexed their muscles to open the new season, scoring 24 unanswered points to begin the game and coasting to a 47-10 victory over the Bulldogs Friday night at Milton-Union’s Memorial Stadium.
“Yeah, that’s not how I wanted my first game back to play out,” said Pearce, who last coached the Bulldogs in 2012. “This was just a game of experience — Miami East had a lot, and we didn’t.”
The Vikings (1-0) had that experience on display, too, with seniors Justin Brown and Vincent Villella each scoring three touchdowns. Brown scored all three of his in the first half — two rushing and one receiving — and Villella added a first-half score and a pair of third-quarter touchdown runs to help put the game away.
“It’s so much different than last year,” said Brown. “It’s nice (having so many weapons), because teams can’t focus on one player. And we all know our stuff and know what needs to be done.”
And one of those things the Vikings know is how to close.
“I’ve learned to never take your foot off the gas,” Villella said. “There are times, when you’re having a good season, that you can get relaxed, but you can’t let that happen. It feels great when all of your options are working in Week 1.”
“These kids have all been thrown to the fire, they faced adversity the last few years, and they’re used to that kind of stuff,” Miami East coach Max Current said. “We got a little sloppy in the second quarter, but I was real pleased with our second-half effort. We kept that foot on the gas and did a nice job finishing.”
The Bulldogs (0-1) got off to a slow start, almost fumbling away the opening kickoff and then backing themselves up with a pair of false start penalties on the opening drive before punting it away. The Milton-Union defense stiffened up in the red zone, though, holding the Vikings to a 28-yard field goal by Wes Sutherly that put Miami East up 3-0 with 4:17 left in the first quarter.
Things went downhill quick for Milton after that, though. After another three-and-out, Justin Brown returned a punt all the way to the Bulldog 12-yard line, and three plays later Brown fell across the goal line on a 4-yard touchdown run, making the score 10-0 East with 43.9 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, East’s Colt Frazier picked off a pass and returned it to the Bulldog 22, and four plays later Vincent Villella pushed his way through for a 5-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter, making the score 17-0.
After a big kickoff return by A.J. Lovin to the Viking 37, Milton-Union finally began to move the football, getting into the red zone at the 19-yard line. Quarterback Nathan Brumbaugh appeared to score on a quarterback keeper, but a block in the back penalty waved off the score, and the Viking defense held on a fourth-down conversion attempt at the 29 to force a turnover on downs. And on the fourth play of the ensuing East drive, Ian Gengler hit Brown with a short screen pass that Brown turned into a 31-yard touchdown, making the score 24-0 with 6:55 left in the half.
“Once we had a couple things not go our way, like having a couple touchdowns called back, I think our kids didn’t respond well, the way experienced kids probably would have,” Pearce said.
The Bulldogs finally broke through on their next drive, though. Robbie Grove was nearly caught in the backfield on a sweep play, but he managed to evade a tackler and turn the corner, breaking a 53-yard touchdown run to get Milton-Union on the scoreboard, down 24-7 with 6:02 left in the half.
Miami East answered with an eight-play, 65-yard drive, with Brown scoring another touchdown, a 20-yard run to make the score 31-7 with 3:10 left in the half. Milton-Union’s Lovin the appeared to break the ensuing kickoff return for a touchdown, but that one was called back on another back-breaking penalty, and the Bulldogs settled for a 25-yard field goal by Austin Brandon on the half’s final play to make the score at the break 31-10 Miami East.
“We got a little sloppy in that second quarter,” Current said. “We gave up those 10 points, had (Grove) dead to rights for a 5-yard loss, had some bad tackling and he ends up going probably 60 yards. Then we had some penalties, a roughing the passer and pass interference, that kept their drive going for them to kick that field goal. But in the second half, we did a nice job finishing and didn’t let up.”
The third quarter was all Vikings, though, as Villella scored on a 20-yard touchdown run to give East a 38-10 led with 7:44 in the quarter. Milton-Union fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, and Villella punched in a 9-yard touchdown run at the 6:36 mark to make the score 45-10 and turn on the running clock per the OHSAA’s mercy rule. And after an East punt was downed on the Milton-Union 2-yard line, the Viking defense stuffed the Bulldogs in the end zone for a safety with 13.2 seconds left in the quarter to make it 47-10.
“The good news is that we have a lot of room for growth, and we’re going to find a lot of things to work on,” Pearce said. “Teams always say that you make your most growth between Weeks 1 and 2, so hopefully we can make that happen and come out with a much better product in Week 2.”
Milton-Union remains at home in Week 2, hosting Oakwood, while Miami East will open the home portion of its schedules against Lehman — the lone team that defeated the Vikings in the regular season last year.
“Next week is huge,” Villella said. “Last year, they were able to beat us. Coming off of this, we have high hopes. We just have to get our nose back to the grindstone.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.