ARLINGTON – The Milford Bulldogs fell in an early hole in their Six-Man Division II state championship game Saturday and couldn’t dig out of it.
Grandfalls-Royalty quickly jumped out to a 30-0 lead just six seconds into the second quarter and Milford never got closer than within 22 as the Cowboys topped the Bulldogs 73-28.
“I’m proud of them. We fought through a lot this year and still made it to this point,” Milford coach Ronny Crumpton said. “I don’t think many people expected us to be in the position we were in, but we’ve grown used to that. There’s a lot of character and pride in what we’re doing.”
In six-man, if at any point after halftime a team has a 45-point lead, the game is called in a version of the “mercy rule.” When Milford trailed 30-0 early in the second quarter, it looked like that rule could have kicked in at halftime, but the Bulldogs battled back.
Jacobe Essary got Milford on the board with a 43-yard scamper down the sideline and the Joseph Salazar two-point extra point kick made it 30-8. Royalty responded with back-to-back scores to make it 44-8.
“They keep the pressure on you. They did a good job of controlling us on offense,” Crumpton said. “We got out of a rhythm early and it took us a while to get back in that rhythm. We settled down a little bit, but we couldn’t hold them and it becomes a moot point.”
Milford used an eight-play, 44-yard drive that took 3:31 off the clock to score on a six-yard pass from Eric Evans to JaCarvus Gates with 43 seconds left in the half. The kick was blocked, but Milford had some momentum and was only down 30 looking at halftime.
But that was too much time for Grandfalls as it scored on the final play of the half on a 17-yard pass to go up 52-14 at the break.
“At halftime, we talked about at some point it being about pride,” Crumpton said. “That’s what it turned in to. You can dig yourself a hole you can’t get out of. It takes a lot more energy to get out of a hole and we were spending a lot of energy.”
The place Milford spent the most energy was trying to contain Cowboy running back Junior Marquez and quarterback Thomas Burns. Marquez was named the game’s Most Valuable Player as he ran 14 times for 228 yards and two touchdowns.
“He was really quick. One of our focal points coming in was trying to keep him in front of us and try and keep him from getting outside,” Crumpton said. “We’ve had issues with that at times and they can make you pay really fast.”
Burns completed just four passes for 76 yards, but three of them were touchdowns. He also ran for 102 yards.
Milford faced an insurmountable hole in the second half, but came out and played tough and with a lot of heart. Essary scored again on a 28-yard run then the defense got a stop when Daren Cisneros picked off a pass inside the Milford five-yard line.
Just when once again momentum seemed to be leaning towards the Bulldogs, Essary was tackled in the end zone for a safety. Grandfalls scored on the next possession to make it 60-22.
Evans completed five straight passes on the next drive, including a nine-yard pass to Jose Owens to make it 60-28 and score the final points of the season for Milford with 3:02 left in the third quarter.
Grandfalls got a touchdown then a stop on fourth down gave them the ball up by 38 with 8:15 left in the game. The Cowboys drove down and scored on a 26-yard pass with 6:28 left in the game. Grandfalls then converted a one-point extra point pass to get the win and seal its first state championship.
This was the fifth time Milford had played for a state title and the third time it came up short. This was the first time the six-man state championship game was played at AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. Despite the loss, Milford was part of the first season of six-man football to play its title game in that football shrine.
“It’s wonderful just getting here and getting to play in this game,” Crumpton said. “They may be upset right now, but they will persevere and be OK. They will look back and think that not only did they get to play for a state championship, but they got to play in AT&T Stadium and what an experience it was.”
Essary finished with 114 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Evans completed 10 of 16 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
Gates had four catches for 32 yards, Essary had three for 36 and Owens had two catches for 16 yards. Tra’Vion Jones led the defense with 10 total tackles and Evans had six.
Of Milford’s 24 players, just five of them were seniors so there is plenty of talent on the team that can try and get back to AT&T Stadium next season. The seniors are: Essary, Evans, Gates, Bryan Fedrick and Russell Johnson.