Buccaneers cap season as Division II runner-up

NEWARK – For the first time since 2008, the Milford Buccaneers football squad made a DIAA Division II state championship appearance at University of Delaware Saturday, Dec. 2.

After beginning the season with a 1-2 record, many had counted this Milford team out of it.

Head coach Shaun Strickland and his Buccaneers would go on to win eight of their next nine games – including a pair of playoff victories over Woodbridge and Wilmington Friends – to earn a rematch against one-loss Delmar in the Division II championship game.

Saturday night ended with a 14-7 loss at the hands of the Wildcats, but coach Strickland was proud of the way his boys battled throughout the game.

“Those guys, they wanted it and they’ve worked so hard,” Strickland said. “They love the fact that they were the team that wasn’t supposed to be here. All we wanted to do when we came out tonight was just play and show people we belong, no matter what that scoreboard says, and that’s what they did.”

Milford runs out of the tunnel ahead of Saturday night’s championship game (The Chronicle/Ben Heck).

After a 35-10 loss to Delmar in Week 9 of the regular season, Milford knew they would need to slow down the Wildcats’ running back duo of Brooks Parker and Te’Shawn Dennard.

Dennard was coming off an impressive eight-touchdown performance against No. 2 A.I. DuPont in the semifinal round a week prior, while Parker scored three touchdowns in the regular season showdown against Milford Friday, Nov. 3.

On the first play from scrimmage Saturday night, Parker took the hand-off and broke out for a first down to get Delmar’s offense going. A few plays later it was Dennard who broke away for a 59-yard touchdown run to put the Wildcats ahead 7-0 early.

It would be the only time the Parker/Dennard duo would see the end zone.

On the first play for Milford’s offense, junior starting quarterback Tayone’ Matthews hit junior receiver Tyron Mifflin for a seven-yard gain. Facing 3rd & 1 a few plays later, senior running back David Bowman converted for a first-down with a run up the middle.

The opening drive would stall and end with a Delmar interception and the Wildcats took over possession at Milford’s 42-yard line.

Milford’s defensive unit forced back-to-back turnover on downs as the offense took over on its own 43-yard line to begin their third drive of the game.

Milford’s offense drove 57 yards and, on the first play of the second quarter, Matthews scored on a QB sneak from one yard out. Jonathan Gaglione’s extra point kick knotted the game 7-7.

Quarterback Tayone’ Matthews drops back to pass against Delmar in Saturday’s championship (The Chronicle/Ben Heck).

Sophomore quarterback Jacob VonArx entered the game on Delmar’s final drive of the opening half and would hit Carson Phillips for a 12-yard touchdown as time expired. The successful extra point put Delmar ahead 14-7 at the half.

The second half would go scoreless for both sides, as Delmar’s defense kept the Bucs out of the end zone for the last 24 minutes of play.

Milford’s biggest play of the second half was a 39-yard pass play from Bowman to senior receiver Tyreke Benson. The play, on the second drive of the third quarter, set Milford up inside Delmar territory, but a fumble a few plays later ended the Bucs’ scoring threat.

“We made mistakes, but stayed in it and kept fighting,” coach Strickland said. “I’ve said it all year, this isn’t a team to come out and make mistakes against. We just had one too many.”

In total, Milford’s defense would force four turnovers (all four were turnover on downs) and two punts on nine Delmar drives.

The Bucs defense, which has been a key part of the team’s 2017 success, kept the Wildcats offense to just 14 points in the championship game.

In Delmar’s previous two playoff games this year, the Wildcats produced 90 points (45.0 per game).

Head coach Shaun Strickland with the runner-up trophy and a game ball following the championship showdown Saturday night (The Chronicle/Ben Heck).

The Bucs will have most of the defensive starters back next year.

“Essentially everyone’s back but two or three,” coach Strickland said of the defense. “We’re excited to have eight starters on defense back and for the couple of guys we’re losing we have guys who are ready to step up. We’re excited about it.”

Milford’s group of 11 seniors finish their high school careers as No. 2 in the state, having gone from a 1-9 record as freshmen to the state’s runner-up as a senior.

Senior class: David Bowman, Parker Chandler, Tyreke Benson, Jordan Waters, Agui Joseph, Eliser Belus, Josh Remus, Daniel Brown-Gordon, Thomas Eisenbrey, Brandon Foster and Juwan Savage.

“They worked their butts off,” coach Strickland said of the senior class. “They bought in from day one. The minute I walked into the weight room, they walked in with me and they haven’t left since.”

Bowman ended his legendary four-year Milford career as the all-time leader in rushing yards, touchdowns and tackles.

The senior class ends their four years at Milford High as the No. 2 team in the state of Delaware.

Sports Editor Ben Heck can be reached at bheck@newszap.com.

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