By the end of the first quarter of Saturday’s Class 3A North regional championship, Edgewood coach Charles Johnson had seen just about enough of Milford Mill return man Desmond Shell.
The junior scored the Millers’ first touchdown on a 56-yard punt return and he frequently gave his team good field position with his explosive speed and quick moves, which was enough to spark the No. 9 Millers to a 33-14 victory for their first regional championship in five years.
Shell, also a running back, later cemented the victory with a 68-yard touchdown run in which he broke a tackle and then hurdled a defender near the line of scrimmage before racing down the right sideline.
“I just wait for an opening. When I get an opening, I just hit it hard,” said Shell, who in a game earlier this season scored three touchdowns within three minutes. “Today I just knew I had to play my hardest to get this win.”
Shell also had two long returns that set up teammate Troy Scott for two of his three rushing touchdowns.
“He was the difference maker,” Johnson said. “Every time he had his hands on the punt, he would bring it up 40 yards. I finally told my punter, ‘Just kick the ball to me.’”
With the victory, the Millers (11-1) will be seeded second in the Class 3A final four and will host first-time semifinalist Long Reach (8-4) next Saturday at 1 p.m. for the chance to play in the state championship game on Nov. 30 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
For the Millers’ seniors, the trip to the state semifinals was a long time coming and they celebrated with fervor.
“It’s a magical feeling,” Scott said. “It’s like your first time going to Disney World.”
The Millers, who won their only state title in 1987, made it to the playoffs three of four years entering 2017, but were knocked out each time by archrival Franklin. Last week, Edgewood defeated the Indians, 20-8, for the first playoff win in program history.
Junior quarterback Antwan Banks scored all three touchdowns against the Indians, but he did not play against the Millers. Johnson said he was injured in the Franklin game, and although they’re not sure of the nature of his leg injury, he didn’t dress for the Milford Mill game. Reyshawn Ivery-Gardner filled in, but he doesn’t have the mobility and speed of Banks, who ran for 1,544 yards and 20 touchdowns this fall.
Not having Banks “hurt tremendously,” Johnson said. “I believe that Antwan Banks is one of the most explosive players in the metro area. … We had to revamp our offense this week to counter that, but as you see, we couldn’t run a lot of the plays that we had that Antwan was running because our other quarterback’s not that type of quarterback.”
After Shell opened the scoring with his punt return, the third-seeded Rams (8-4) tied it when Deonte Banks, Antwan’s cousin, ran for a 26-yard touchdown with 2:13 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Scott scored on a 7-yard run, set up by Shell’s 44-yard punt return. After the Rams next turned the ball over on downs at midfield, Scott scored on a 50-yard run to push the lead to 21-7 with 4:32 left in the half.
The top-seeded Millers had a chance to put the game away when the Rams fumbled on the kick return and Jawaun Werrell recovered for Milford Mill on Edgewood’s 35-yard line. Quarterback Brandon Savage ran for 7 yards on the first play, but was then intercepted by Monzel Ware on the next play.
That thwarted the Millers’ chances to go into the break with a 21-point lead. Instead, they had just a seven-point lead.
With 25 seconds left, Deonte Banks took a short pass from Ivery-Gardner and broke several tackles as he raced 48 yards to the end zone to pull Edgewood within 21-14.
The Rams, however, could not carry the momentum into the second half.
Although they held the Millers on their first possession, Shell had another long punt return and Scott scored on a 4-yard run for a 27-14 lead with 1:46 left in the third quarter. Shell sealed the win a minute into the fourth quarter with his 68-yard touchdown.
“This is part two of a three-part goal,” Millers coach Reggie White told the team after the game, referring to the Baltimore County Division I and Class 3A North regional titles already won. “I promise you this — it’s going to be the best practice on Thursday (Thanksgiving) morning that you ever had. Let’s get ready.”
E 7 7 0 0 — 14
MM 7 14 6 6 — 33
MM—Shell 56 punt ret. (Downs kick)
E—D.Banks 26 run (Burkhardt kick)
MM—Scott 7 run (Downs kick)
MM—Scott 50 run (Downs kick)
E—D.Banks 48 pass from Ivery-Gardner (Burkhardt kick)
MM--Scott 4 run (pass failed)
MM—Shell 68 run (run failed)