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Milford Mill football beats Long Reach in 3A state semifinal

Howard County Times sports

With a week before the season officially began, Milford Mill coach Reggie White ordered trusty playmaker Brandon Savage into his office. The Millers coaching staff had been notified at the beginning of August that an expected transfer had fell through, and their Plan B under center wasn’t panning out. This left White’s quarterback situation in a state of obscurity as game week approached. That’s when White told Savage to take a seat.

“He said, ‘Savage, I need you to lead the team,’” the senior recalled. “I said, ‘I got you, coach.’”

Savage, thrown into the fire as a wiry 5-foot-11 two-way player who last played quarterback in an eighth grade rec league, seized the demand without a qualm. There were no quarterback camps, passing leagues or individual coaching. His debut under center was far from memorable – a 24-point walkover by Tuscarora at home.

But on Saturday afternoon and 12 consecutive wins later, Savage and his buddies dumped large coolers of ice water over their jubilant coaching staff, celebrating a 33-6 win over Long Reach that launches them into their first state title game since 1987.

Savage finished the afternoon with 210 total yards, two passing touchdowns and coming through with a timely interception on defense. Milford Mill (12-1) will face Frederick County’s Linganore for the 3A state title this upcoming Thursday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“Brandon accepted it and ran with it,” White said. “He took us here. That’s where we are right now. … Nothing beats hard work.”

Savage took the Millers down to the Lightning 23-yard line on the game’s opening possession, but, on 4th-and-long, tried to force something into the back left corner of the end zone and got intercepted by Long Reach’s Luis Gooden Jr. Like he had this season, though, Savage redeemed himself on the next drive and found fellow receiver Ugo Obasi on an out route on 4th-and-eight for a 10-yard score.

The Millers’ defense setup the opening salvo with its stingy defense, backing Long Reach deep into its own zone and forcing a poor punt, which gave the hosts a drive three yards outside the red zone. For the day, Milford Mill allowed just 14 yards on 18 Long Reach carries and forced six turnovers (two interceptions, four on downs).

Since Week 1, the Millers switched from a 3-3-5 defense to a 4-2-5 scheme, which focuses on stopping the run. It’s paid dividends since.

“They’re resilient,” White said. “The academics part, they’re smart. The team has over a 3.0 [grade point] average with 48 kids. That’s awesome. These kids are smart, hungry and take the coaching.”

In the early minutes of the second, after the defense forced one of many three-and-outs, Savage marched the Millers down the field with pass plays of 13, 11 and 16 yards that ended in an 84-yard scoring drive and 10-yard scamper by tailback Troy Scott (81 yards on 11 carries). This made it 14-0, and roughly 10 minutes later, Desmond Shell jumped a route he’s anticipated off film study and took an interception 40 yards to the house.

Long Reach, which turned the ball over on downs inside the 5-yard-line on its opening drive of the second half, got on the board when Tyler Moore (13-for-35 passing, 136 yards) skirted in on a 4-yard keeper. After it was 21-6 going into the fourth quarter, Savage responded resoundingly with a 51-yard scoring bomb to freshman Rishon Holmes, and five minutes later, Scott crossed the plane once more to swell the lead to 27.

As for Long Reach, its season ends at 8-4 on a day where they struggled to move the ball. It wasn’t until the 10:46 mark of the second quarter when they produced their first play for positive yardage. But in the postgame huddle, Lightning coach Jamie Willis extolled his team’s wherewithal to win the program’s first regional title ever.

“When they came in, they said they wanted to be great, and they did,” Willis said. “They won the JV championship their sophomore year and made history their senior year, being regional champions. That’s invaluable. They set this program in the right direction.”

In the end, it was White who basked in a scene 30 years in the making. The coach was a senior standout on the 1987 Milford Mill championship team, and next Thursday he will lead his Millers into Annapolis gunning for the school’s second ever football title.

“It means everything,” White said. “It just means everything. This school means so much to me: Being an alumni, being able coach my son and to have us in this position. … I’ve been waiting 30 years to say this: We’re going to states.”

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