Late punt return sends Milford Mill past Aberdeen in Class 3A semifinal

Milford Mill's Jordan Simms is hardly regarded as an offensive threat, considering he hadn't scored all season for the Millers.

Even so, a lack of suceess finding the end zone did not stop the senior from making the game-changing play against Aberdeen (7-4) in a Class 3A North Region semifinal Saturday afternoon,

With his team trailing the Eagles, 21-20, late in the fourth quarter, Simms snatched a shanked punt that bounced high into the air and streaked down the sideline for the winning score in a 28-21 Milford Mill triumph.

The victory catapults the Millers (8-3) into a rematch with top-seeded Franklin in the regional final on Friday night in Reisterstown.

"I saw the ball bounce," said Simms, typically a blocker on punt returns who was near the ball only because the kick was so short. "I just trusted my instincts and skills from there. I knew it was going to take more than one guy to stop me."

More times than not, when a punt that is bouncing among players on the receiving team, they are instructed to stay away from the ball in case it veers into one of them and causes a turnover.

Simms, however, threw caution to the wind and the Eagles out of the playoffs.

"He caught us off guard," Aberdeen coach Johnny Brooks said. "The kid made a heady play."

The Eagles, after trailing, 20-14, at half rallied to take a 21-20 advantage with 9:53 remaining in regulation on a 10-play, 60-yard drive that ended on a 17-yard fade from senior quarterback Lavell McCullers to junior wideout Tevaris Ivory.

Aberdeen converted a 4th-and-3 at the Milford Mill 40-yard line on a bruising 8-yard run by junior running back Ben Ricardson to keep the sequence intact.

It was their only lead in a game in which Brooks said his team was not in top form.

"We just didn't look sharp today," he said. "Maybe it was Milford, maybe it was us, maybe it was playing on Saturday. I dodn't know. We made mistakes that we haven't made all year."

One of the most egregious came on the opening kickoff that was fumbled and recovered by the Millers at the Eagle 30-yard line.

Three plays later, senior Jamal Morant's ankle-breaking cutback produced a 19-yard touchdown run for a 6-0 lead.

Aberdeen answered on its next series when Ken Shay McCraney's sweep carried him into the end zone from the Milford Mill 13-yard line.

Morant was at it again on the Millers' next possession, bursting up the middle from the Eagle 9-yard line for a touchdown before tacking on conversion points for a 14-6 lead with 5:00 left in the opening quarter.

Then it was Milford Mill's turn to make a mistake when Aberdeen junior Kion Gibson blocked a punt attempt and senior Chapree Cromwell pounced it at the Millers' 10-yard line. Richardson rumbled 9 yards before McCullers' keeper and his conversion toss to Richardson knotted the score again.

Senior defensive back Hayes Gaines broke the deadlock with 42-yard interception return with 4:51 left in the first half.

After that, both defenses made key plays. Gibson recovered a Milford Mill fumble to stop one drive and senior Emmanuel Talley hauled in a muffed Eagle punt. Neither turnover cost their teams, however.

"They had some funky four-man fronts," Milford Mill coach Reggie White said. "We didn't know if they were coming from the A-gap or B-gap. They did a good job" keeping Morant in check in the second half.

A   14   0   0   7   21

M   14   6   0   8   28

M-Morant 19 run (kick failed)

A- McCraney 13 run (kick failed)

M-Morant 9 run (Morant run)

A-McCullers 1 run (Richardson pass)

M-Gaines 42 interception (run failed)

A-Ivory 17 pass from McCullers (Whittie kick)

M-Simms 32 punt return (Morant run)


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