MILTON - One phone call late in the summer changed Milton's season on Friday night. George Goodwin received that call from senior linebacker Ryan Solomon. and the coach's heart was probably racing that night as fast as it was following Friday night's game. as he talked to Solomon waiting for Milton's version of the decision.
Goodwin didn't know what he was going to hear when Solomon called. It was one of two choices: Coach I'm going to play football or coach I'm going to concentrate on wrestling.
The 6-0 foot, 220-pound two-way starter is an University of Pittsburgh wrestling recruit and some wondered about the potential pitfalls of playing football with a wrestling scholarship in the offing. Solomon, though, couldn't give up the Friday night lights and a moment like last night was a reason why.
His interception of Shikellamy quarterback Ernie Tyler on the game's final play clinched a 13-7 Milton victory and advanced the Black Panthers to the District 4 Class AAA championship game for a second consecutive season.
"Ryan Solomon... I'm glad he didn't dedicate his life to wrestling," said Goodwin, as he tried to wrap his mind around a game that the Black Panthers had to win twice in the final two minutes to escape."By all means he's been huge for us all year and he stepped up big right there."
Solomon spent Sunday wrestling at Benton against Blair Academy, N.J., but his winter passion will have to wait for his full attention as Milton (7-4) will play at Selinsgrove next week for the District 4 Class AAA title a year after the Black Panthers lost to Shamokin in the championship game.
Milton's sights on the 2012 championship game were set when the Black Panthers' defense held Shikellamy on a fourth-and-4 with under 1:40 remaining. One first down separated the second seed from a second straight championship appearance, but on a third-and-4 from its own 46 Josh Brown fumbled and Shikellamy recovered with 32 seconds remaining after a mad scramble.
"I'm not going to lie, a little bit," said Solomon about the amount of fear he felt after the Brown fumble, "but I have faith in our defense."
The Braves (5-6) reached the Milton 9 with three Tyler completions and had two plays to score the tying and potential winning touchdown, depending the extra point.
Tyler's pass on first-and-goal from the 9 was nearly intercepted but the Braves were given a reprieve. They weren't as lucky on the final play as Solomon stepped in front of Tyler's pass and the final seconds ticked amongst a Milton celebration.
"Since I'm a lineman I really don't get to see that very much," said Solomon, "but I finally got to see it and took advantage of it."
It was the second consecutive week Milton had beaten their HAC-I rivals. The Black Panthers won 27-7 last week, but struggled to score last night despite moving the ball well.
Milton's first drive of the night lasted 17 plays and covered 89 yards but ended without a point.
The whole first quarter finished without any scoring from either team, but Milton finished a 10-play second-quarter march with a Brown 3-yard run.
Shikellamy tied the game on its next possession with a 32-yard pass to Scott Snyder from Tyler on a fourth-and-4. Snyder used a double move to run past the Milton secondary and Tyler lofted a perfect pass that hit Snyder in stride with 1:46 remaining in the first half.
Defense ruled the third quarter and the teams went to the final 12 minutes still tied at 7-7. Milton regained the lead with 9:12 left in the fourth quarter on a Brady
Chappell quarterback sneak on a fourth-down play from the 1. Milton dodged the first of two bullets in the fourth quarter when they recovered a muffed punt in its own territory with under eight minutes remaining and it took advantage of the break by working over 4:30 off the clock and pinning Shikellamy inside the 18 with 2:31 left. The Braves reached the Milton 40 before turning the ball over on downs in what appeared to be their last-ditch effort before chaos ensued over the final minute with the Milton fumble giving the Braves one more chance that was turned away by Solomon.
"To Milton's credit when they needed to make a stop they got it," said Shikellamy coach Todd Tilford, "and when we needed to make a play we just didn't quite come up with it."
Shikellamy's offense had trouble getting its hands on the ball throughout the night as Milton rushed for 227 yards. Milton's three-headed monster of Jarred Fogelman, Jayson English and Brown collected over 200 yards. Fogelman had 77, English 65 and Brown 64.
Milton converted seven third downs and the fourth down that gave the lead in the fourth quarter.
It was the game's final down they'll always remember, though.
"Our kids just played an outstanding game and they never quit," said Goodwin. "That is why we are going back to the district title game."