JERSEY SHORE -- For the first 21 minutes of Friday night's HAC-I matchup between Milton and Jersey Shore, the game belonged to the Bulldogs as they scored 17 unanswered points to take a 17-0 lead.
However, facing the 17-point deficit, the Panthers shook off the cobwebs and went on the prowl as they scored the final 31 points of the game for a hard-fought, come-from-behind 31-17 win.
"They are a good football team and I told our kids that," said Milton coach George Goodwin of the Bulldogs. "It is real tough to spot anybody 17 points and come back so I want to give our kids a heckuva lot of credit because they continued to battle and chip away (at the deficit) until we got it done."
Disappointed with the loss, but certainly not the effort of his young team, Shore (0-9)?head coach Tom Gravish felt it was just a matter of Milton making more plays than his canine crew.
"The simple fact is that they made more plays than we did," said Gravish. "I just told the kids that I was really proud to be associated with them because they battled and battled and never quit. I know they gave us everything they had and tonight, they left it all out there on the field. They have nothing to be ashamed of and I am really proud of their effort. We didn't the win tonight, but they didn't quit and that was good to see."
Both teams started slow as the Bulldogs fumbled three times in the first quarter and two more in the second period, while Milton (5-4)?quarterback Brady Chappell was the victim of three dropped passes that could have led to big plays.
"He (Chappell) put the ball right on the money and deserved better results," said Goodwin. "We are really banged up at this point of the season. We have a lot of guys hurt and that forced us to juggle a lot of people around into different positions, not just offensively, but defensively as well. I think it took some of them a little time to adjust to the game speed, but when they did, they stepped up to play."
Controlling both sides of the line of scrimmage, the Bulldogs built up a 14-0 lead in the first quarter with a pair of rushing touchdowns by quarterback Jordan Tawney on runs of 10 and four yards. During the first 12 minutes, the Bulldogs ran off 22 plays to just 10 for Milton.
Following four punts, Shore increased its lead to 17-0 with 4:12 left before halftime on a 27-yard field goal by Zac Velez in the second period. But that is when Milton got its ducks in a row to score what might have been the biggest of their four touchdowns.
The Black Panthers took only two plays to get on the board when Chappell tossed his first of three touchdowns, a 62-yard pitch-and-catch with Jarred Fogelman. The touchdown pass cut Shore's lead to 17-8 at the break.
"That play right before the half certainly didn't help us," said Gravish. "We tell our players all the time that most games are separated by about five major plays and that was one of them. And the two-point conversion had to be another one. Before they scored that touchdown, I thought we played them as well as we could have."
With still some time left in the first half, the Bulldogs drove to a first-and-goal on the Milton 9-yard line. The big play in the march was a 51-yard toss-and-run from Tawney to Jeff Dincher. However, a quarterback sack on fourth down left the Bulldogs short of the end zone.
"I thought we answered the bell with that play," said Gravish. "We were just about ready to throw the pass (for the score), but I thought their kid made a heckuva play with less than a minute to play. When they stopped us on that possession, it gave them some momentum. We (the Shore coaches) still felt good at halftime, but for whatever reason, we were giving up a few more yards per play in the second half than we did in the first half."
Following the intermission, it was virtually all Milton as the Black Panther defense stood tall, forcing a pair of Bulldog punts while picking off three Jordan Tawney passes.
"They started to get their offense clicking with backs out of the backfield and a couple of two-point conversions," said Gravish. "I feel they made about five more plays than we did and that was enough for them to win the ball game."
Milton scored the only points of the third quarter when Jayson English was on the receiving end of a 40-yard strike by Chappell and just like that with their second two-point conversion, the Panthers only trailed by one at 17-16 Shore.
Taking over on their own 39-yard line later in the third period, the Panthers put together a quick-strike drive of six plays culminated by Chappell's third TD pass on the second play of the final period, a 10-yard effort to Grant Wargo.
If the Milton defense hadn't taken control of the game previously, they did down the stretch as the Panthers picked off three Shore passes to hold the Bulldogs at bay.
"I talked about us having to juggle guys, especially in the defensive backfield because we have guys injured," said Goodwin. "We had another guy who couldn't play this week, so all things considered, I can't say enough about our kids."
With his team leading 24-17, Fogelman, who rushed for 124 yards on 17 carries and caught three passes for another 84 yards, put the nail in the Shore coffin as he took the ball to the house from 17 yards out to seal the deal.
"He (Fogelman) stepped up for us all year," said Goodwin. "He is a kid who we didn't really know what we were going to get from him. He has come to play all year and he certainly came to play tonight."