For Milford Mill football coach Reggie White and his seniors, reaching Thursday’s Class 3A championship game has been an emotional ride.
The Millers will be playing in the state final for the first time since 1987, when they won their only championship. White played on that team and now he’s going for another title with his younger son, Nicholas, a senior lineman.
The players know how much it would mean to their coach to lead his alma mater to its second state title when the No. 9 Millers (12-1) meet Linganore (11-2) at 7 p.m. at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
“We want to make him cry again,” senior running back Troy Scott Jr. said with a big grin. “You’re going to cry again if we win, aren’t you, Coach?”
“Yeah, I probably will,” White said.
For White, there couldn’t be a better time to win another state championship — the last game he will coach one of his two sons. Reggie Jr. played on the previous Millers team to make the state semifinals in 2012, and is now a senior wide receiver at Monmouth.
“It’s hard to control all the emotions,” the coach said. “It started with my oldest boy being in the [state semifinal] playoff game even though we didn’t win. I’m so proud to coach Reg and Nicholas … and at my alma mater. Now Nicholas, he’s going to states with Pops. It’s great.”
Each victory they’ve celebrated, however, has been tinged with sadness for one player who should be with them but can’t be, their 12th man Tyree Brown II.
Brown, who likely would have been a major contributor as a senior on this year’s team, died after being struck by a car in December 2015.
Scott, Nicholas and quarterback-defensive back Brandon Savage played with Brown on the Pikesville Wildcats team that won a recreation championship before they all moved on to high school football. In 2015, Brown played on the Millers’ varsity team with Scott and White.
The players keep his No. 7 jersey with them at every game and they’ve kept him a part of the team. For the past two years, his name has been on the roster with a star for team captain.
“I feel his presence all the time,” Scott said. “I talk to him before every game. I know he would want to be here and just to have some of the guys I played with in rec on the team and that we’re playing for a championship here again as a team, I know he would most definitely want to be part of it.”
Brown would certainly be proud of his teammates who bounced back from a season-opening thumping by Tuscarora to win 12 straight games — tied with No. 1 St. Frances for the Baltimore area’s longest active winning streak.
Scott said he knew the Millers had a chance at a title run after an August scrimmage with the best public school program in the state.
“We were hanging with Wise and after that, I felt we could win this,” Scott said. “Wise won [4A] states back-to-back and if we could hang with them, we’ve got a chance.”
Tuscarora, however, handed the Millers a 38-14 dose of reality in the season opener.
White had some holes to fill on defense, although he had key middle linebacker Kevin Neal back. Offensively, the Millers had a solid line and strong skill players, but no veteran quarterback. Freshman Rishon Holmes had plenty of promise but showed his inexperience early, so White appealed to Savage, who agreed to take the job even though he hadn’t played under center since eighth grade.
Everything started to come together in the next few games, but the marquee regular-season win came Oct. 14, when the Millers defeated archrival Franklin, 26-21, for the first time in eight tries — the game White and several of his players cite as the turning point in the season.
Milford Mill hadn’t beaten Franklin since the regional playoffs in 2012 — the last time the Millers went to the final four. The Indians, who won 3A titles in 2013 and 2014 and reached the state final last year, knocked the Millers out of the playoffs three times in the past four years.
“It was definitely a mental thing,” Nicholas White said of the Millers’ difficulty with getting past Franklin. “After all those losses, it was like we finally got the monkey off our back. I think that game let the team know that we had the chance at states because they’re a state-championship-caliber team.”
Since that win, they have rolled through their past six games, outscoring opponents by an average of almost 31 points.
The Millers average 262 rushing yards per game, led by Scott with 1,134 yards and 24 touchdowns and Desmond Shell with 930 yards and 10 touchdowns. Savage has thrown for 1,506 yards and 13 touchdowns — 11 of them to Ugo Obasi, who has 653 receiving yards. They have a host of other weapons as well with eight players who’ve run for touchdowns and six who’ve caught touchdown passes.
“That’s the scariest part about us. You can’t stop one person. You’ve got to stop the whole team,” said Shell, a dangerous player in all facets of the game with 741 return yards and six interceptions.
Now the Millers just have to put the finishing touch on the season against a team that played a tough schedule in Frederick County, including a 34-20 win over Tuscarora a month ago.
“I think the team is more focused this week, because we know it’s the last game and we’ve got to ball out,” Nicholas White said. “When we work together and when our brotherhood is at its peak, we play better. … I would never forget that moment. Just having that trophy with my dad and being named state champions, it would be a dream come true.”