Milford hopes to keep rolling after last week’s Dover win

Jabraih Luke

MILFORD – When the Milford High football team scored a game-winning touchdown with minutes remaining to pull away with a shocking 30-27 win over Dover High last Friday night, head coach Shaun Strickland wasn’t even in the same state.

Following an ejection during a 42-14 loss to Sussex Tech High a week prior, Strickland by rule could not be on the sidelines to coach against the Senators.

The fifth-year coach prepared with the team all week, but shortly after team dinner on the night of the game he had to leave the stadium.

He tried not to think about what was happening back home at Briggs Stadium, but when the game was all said and done, he couldn’t have been happier with the phone call he received.

“I was at my wife’s family’s house,” Strickland said. “We were scheduled to leave that Saturday, but we made the decision that we’ll just go on Friday night. I got the first update from my parents, and then I told them to leave me alone … My wife and mom were sneaking scores. It was one of those things where, ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ I knew good was going to bother me, bad was going to bother me. Just not being there hurt.

“When they knew it was over, they gave me the final score. I did tell coach (Josh) Harris, ‘whatever happens, call me when it’s over.’ I got the call and seeing those guys on the phone was just awesome.”

The win in front of the home crowd put the Bucs back over .500 with a 3-2 record heading into tonight’s road showdown at Caesar Rodney High. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.

While not being there with the team was tough, Strickland knew he was in good hands with offensive coordinator Harris, defensive coordinator and acting head coach Nick Brannan and sophomore starting quarterback Shawn Saxon leading the way.

“Coach Strickland has put together a wonderful staff and, truthfully, our program, we just really believe in each other,” said Brannan. “It’s truly the epitome of, ‘next man up.’ We all know our jobs and we all have clearly-defined roles.”

In a game that featured six lead changes, it was running back Jabraih Luke who put the Bucs ahead for good.

Milford blocked a Dover punt to take over deep inside Senator territory. Luke took advantage of the opportunity, converting a fourth down by punching the ball in from one yard out with 2:20 remaining.

It was one of Luke’s two touchdowns on the night.

Junior running back Marquis Gillis rushed for nearly 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns to pace the offense.

“It felt unreal,” said senior linebacker Isais Tilghman. “It was a big game for us, we knew we had good competition heading our way, but we just had to play football. That’s all it was. We have some good coaches out here, everybody does their part and coach left us with a great staff even though he couldn’t be here.

“We worked together as a team. That was the best energy we’ve had all season, honestly. We lost those two games back to back, the energy wasn’t there, but we brought it back this game.”

The Bucs dedicated the performance on the field to the late Woodbridge High quarterback Troy Haynes, who had passed away just five days prior to the game after a courageous battle with an advanced form of kidney cancer.

Milford and Dover, just like countless of other teams across the state Friday night, honored the Blue Raiders’ former two-time state champion quarterback prior to the game.

After a 2-0 start with early-season wins over Indian River High and Delaware Military Academy, Milford dropped a pair of consecutive Henlopen North matchups against Cape Henlopen High and Sussex Tech.

“It’s just a matter of playing a complete game,” said Brannan. “We’ve played good quarters, but against Dover we knew that calm breeds calm, if we let ourselves just play our game and do what we’ve practiced all week we felt it was very favorable that we could do something.”

The Week 5 Dover win marks the Bucs’ first Henlopen North win of the season heading into tonight’s North battle.

As a Caesar Rodney graduate and former assistant coach on the Riders’ staff, Strickland is familiar with the program. It will be his first time coaching against his alma mater.

“I’ve never been on the other sideline,” he said. “A lot of memories out there, from playing days and when I coached there before coming here. It’s going to be fun, we’re their homecoming game. I never thought I’d get another CR homecoming game, but here we are.”

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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