BLOOMSBURG - Faced with a tight game in crunch time last week against Mifflinburg, Milton was unable to hold onto a late lead and ended up dropping a heartbreaker by four points.
This week, facing a similar situation on the road at Central Columbia, the Black Panthers had another chance to put the game away late and this time rose to the occasion as Milton walked away from Central with a 32-20 win to even its record at 2-2 on a night that Central cut the ribbon on its remodeled stadium and new turf field.
Holding a 26-20 lead with 3:20 left, Milton took possession at its own 26 after Jayson English slipped and fell on the kickoff return. After Joshua Brown picked up a first down on the first play from scrimmage, Central forced Milton into a fourth-and-1 at the Central 49 with just over two and a half minutes left to play. Instead of punting and pinning the Blue Jays deep in their own territory, Milton coach George Goodwin went for it. His offense responded as Brown broke free at the line of scrimmage and took it 49 yards into the end zone to clinch the victory.
"It's a credit to our kids. They didn't get down. A lot of times, 17 and 18-year-old kids can be more resilient than coaches," said Goodwin. "We (the coaches) had our tails between our legs and did a lot of things wrong last week. This week, the kids performed out here and it's a credit to them."
Brown was a workhorse for the Black Panthers, as he carried the ball 24 times for 147 yards, but none bigger than his final run. Milton was outgained on the ground by Central but the difference on offense was Brady Chappell's 222 passing yards on two touchdowns, which came on just seven completions. Five of those completions went for over 20 yards, including two hookups with Greg Shultz that went for 50 or more yards.
The other difference in the game was turnovers. Milton did not commit a turnover, while Central gave the ball away five times on three interceptions and two lost fumbles. Shultz, in addition to hauling in three passes for 125 yards and a score, also picked off Central quarterback Austin Farver twice and returned them a combined 41 yards.
"Mistakes were the name of the game tonight for us. We made way too many mistakes between penalties and turnovers. We just didn't play a good football game at times," said Central coach Jason Hippenstiel. "Not to take anything away from Milton because they did some great stuff. They did some things we hadn't seen and that's what a good coach does. We have to adjust and make plays and we didn't at times."
Central came out of the gate on fire and could do no wrong, going 68 yards in 10 plays on its first drive of the game with Danny Koch taking it in from nine yards out. Things were going so well for the Blue jays that despite a bad snap on the PAT, holder Cody Bowman still managed to convert the try for two points on a pass to Koch.
That was the Blue jays' only score of the first half, however, as they punted twice and then lost fumbles on their last two drives of the half, including one in the red zone as they were driving in for a potential game-tying score with under a minute to play.
Milton, meanwhile, after punting on its first two drives of the game, found the end zone on its next two, as English punched it in from a yard out early in the second quarter and then Chappell connected with Corey Kriner on a 10-yard touchdown pass later in the second. A 50-yard reception by Shultz keyed that drive.
"In a power-I system, we know teams are going to load the box and we expect that we should be able to hit our receivers, possibly deep," said Goodwin. "I think Brady likes to look to the deep guy. Sometimes that's not always good but that was working for us tonight.
"Shultz played real well tonight," said Goodwin. "We expected that and saw that in him in 7-on-7s all summer if we were going to go up top. He stepped up big tonight."
Chappell would connect with Shultz again on Milton's first drive of the third quarter, this time for 59 yards and for a touchdown to put Milton up 20-8. Central would cut it to 20-14 on a short 42-yard drive midway through the third as Bowman finished with a four-yard run.
Shultz' first pick of the game would come early in the fourth quarter and it set up the Black Panthers at the Central 13 but despite eight plays, Milton's drive was stopped on fourth down at the Central 3. That field position would be big, though, as Shultz came right back on Central's ensuing drive and picked off Farver again, this time returning it to the Central 7 and two plays later, Chappell ran it in on the QB sneak to put Milton up 26-14.
Central would march back down the field and cut the lead to six on Koch's second TD run of the game, doing so in just 1:37 to leave plenty of time left on the clock, but from there, Milton used the lessons learned from last week and this time closed it out with a win.