If not for big plays, Milford Mill's football team might have continued where it ended last season.
Coming off an 0-10 season, the Millers crafted a 43-yard bomb that set up a touchdown, a safety and a blocked punt returned for a score to offset an otherwise unproductive offense and thwart host Mount Hebron, 14-3, yesterday in the 1993 opener for both teams.
Milford Mill, rushing on 26 of 30 plays, compiled 175 yards of offense and moved deep into Vikings territory twice without scoring.
"There are definitely places we have to improve, but we did have two nice drives without those big plays," first-year Millers coach Robert Mehno said. "But we have to be able to put it in."
Before kickoff, Mount Hebron coach Mark Cates sarcastically labeled the game "a true battle of champions," with his Vikings trying to rebound off a 1-9 disappointment of their own.
A Vikings squad that mounted 147 yards of offense, all on runs, started strong on the opening possession, driving 73 yards on 12 plays to set up a field-goal attempt. With Brian Benicewicz lined up for a 30-yard try, the snap skidded low and Benicewicz threw incomplete.
Mount Hebron quarterback Brent Wilhoite noticed a mental letdown in his team, one with just two starting seniors, after the botched attempt.
"We weren't concentrating and the adrenalin was kind of gone from everybody," he said. "We were never able to get untracked."
In the midst of Milford Mill gaining only six yards on its first 10 plays against a stubborn Vikings defense, Benicewicz's 27-yard field goal gave Mount Hebron a 3-0 edge early in the second period.
Soon after, Mount Hebron took possession on its own 3. On third down from the same spot, back Charles Kosh (13 carries, game-high 87 yards) tried turning the corner, but was tackled by Charles Johnson and Charles Williams in the end zone for a safety 6:43 before halftime.
After starting on the Vikings' 43, the Millers faced a third-and-11 when Andre Eure completed his only pass -- a 43-yarder that Carlos Pearson caught between two defenders -- for a first down at the 1. Two plays later, Eure optioned around right end to score for an 8-3 lead. Mount Hebron halted Williams on a conversion run.
Eure's pass was under-thrown, but Pearson timed his catch nicely. "I read the quarterback's eyes and I knew when it left his hand it would be a bit under-thrown because of the pressure," he said. "I just concentrated and made the catch."
Milford Mill end Julius Dunbar produced the final points. With Vikings punter Nick Canjea lined up around his own 20, Dunbar came untouched around right end, blocked the kick, retrieved it on one hop, and scored for a 14-3 tally with 15 minutes left.
"We were a little sluggish [on offense]," Mehno said, "but I was happy it got better as the game went on. If it were to end at halftime, I would have been disappointed. We ran a couple of spring draws for 10, 15 yards and the offense started being a little more patient."
Said Cates: "[Mehno] coached a great game. He responded to and shut down some of the things we were doing. I attribute our loss to him."