by Harry Doak
The Milan Wildcats hosted the Princeton Tigers on Friday, November 6, 2020 in the second round or semi-finals of the Class I, District 7 playoffs. In this the year of the Pandemic, when every facet of life and sport appear to be filled with uncertainty and inconsistency, Friday night was no exception.
The Wildcats led by two touchdowns heading into the fourth quarter at Cal Hubbard Field. When was the last time, in recent memory, that the Wildcats would lose that lead and the contest?
A turnover, inter-ception was turned into a touchdown, then the Wildcat defense brokedown. Giving up huge chunks of real estate for the deciding and winning touchdown. Milan had one final shot to get the game into overtime, but came up short, losing 42 to 36 and ending a very exciting season.
The Wildcats ended with an 8-2 record and Co-Grand River Championship.
The number one District seed, South Harrison, also tasted defeat getting pounded at home by Hamilton Penney, the forth seed. Both, South Harrison and Milan were state ranked and seemingly on their way to continued post season action. However, as in life and sport, any and everything is possible. Congratulations to the Wildcats for another successful season under those Friday night lights. Milan exceeded pre-season expectations by leaps and bounds, despite all the uncertainities with Covid 19.
A lot of credit to the Tigers, as they fought back from wicked first quarter, plus 6 fumbles, or bad snaps in the contest. Princeton overcame the mounting turnover and the Tigers capitalized on the Wildcat misques.
The Princeton Tigers won the opening coin toss and elected to receive. No kick off return and Princeton began on their initial offensive series from their own 35.
On first down, a bad snap resulted in a 6 yard loss with John Ray Le La Cruz getting their tfl. Second down was total confusion for the Tigers. Another terrible snap and a 14 yard loss with John Ray and Deric Doporto combining on the tfl. A 6 yard pass incompletion forced a fourth down punt. A 36 yard boot gave Milan good field position at the Wildcat 43.
An 8 play, 57 yard scoring drive, using 3 minutes 10 seconds and a 2 point conversion produced an 8-0 lead at the 6:54 mark of the first quarter. On the first play from scrimmage Dominic Dabney ripped off a nifty 24 yard scamper. Dominic carred 4 times for 42 yards, Deric 3 rushes for 12 yards, Mallan capped off the successful scoring drive, plunging across the goal line from 1 yard out. Deric slammed in for the 2 point conversion and an 8-0 Milan lead.
A downed kick off put Princeton on the Tigers 40 super field position. However, the offensive unit continued to go backwards, a penalty, a tfl by Darren Deporto and Bryce Sinclair had the Tigers punting from their 31 on fourth down. A seven yard punt by Princeton resulted in the Wildcats taking over at the Tigers 38.
Milan could not cash in on this short field opportunity. What began as a sure scoring drive, three snaps for 14 yards, to the Tiger 24. Then two penalities and a tfl and Milan in position to punt. A quick kick on fourth down resulted in a 2 yard punt.
Princeton began from their own 41. The Tigers marched to the Wildcat 37 in 3 rushing attempts. A Princeton penality brought the ball back to the Wildcat 48. Thirty-one yards on a pass completion to the Milan 17. Four yards on the ground to Milan’s 13, “the beast”, Axel Pagan, forced a Tiger fumble, but the Tigers recovered, a tfl of 4 yards. Deric recorded a tfl of 2 yards as the first quarter came to a close. Milan 8 Princeton 0.
The second quarter began with Princeton facing a fourth and 12 situation from the Milan 19. An incomplete pass turned the pigskin over to the Wildcats. A 17 yard jaunt by Dominic plus a face mask penalty by Princeton jumped the Wildcats to their 41 yard line. One yard in three downs forced Milan to punt. Michael Pipes kick attempt was blocked and Princeton recovered at the Milan 24 yard line.
Axel collected another tfl on firstdown but a 12 yard gain put the ball at the 13. John Ray crashed through the Tiger line for three yards, tfl. A one yard gain plus a 13 yard pass completion gave Princeton a first and goal at the Wildcat 2 yard yard line. The next snap resulted in a touchdown, the 2 point conversion was successful and with 7:56 before halftime the score was knotted at 8-8.
John Ray gained 5 yards on the kick off to the Milan 39. Dominic gained 2 yards on two attempts. Deric, took a hand off and produced a crushing, punishing 28 yards to the Tigers 31. An eight yard run by Dominic, plus another face mask penalty by Princeton to the Tiger 17. Dom was stuffed for no gain, Deric gained 3 yards to the 14. Darren Doporto used his first two rushing attempts for 6 yards, then 8 for the touchdown. The 2 point conversion was short but Milan went back in front 14 to 8 with 3:41 before intermission.
Jacob Jaimes drilled the kick off, Princeton fumbled and Hunter Fordyce recovered the pigskin at the Princeton 48. Milan wasted little time capitalizing on the Tiger misque. Six plays, 2 minutes, 15 seconds later, Milan increased their margin 20-8 with 1:12 on the clock.
Dominic ran two times for 7 yards, Deric had two carries for 10 yards, Darren Doporto was really making an impression with his quick, hard driving style. Taking advantage of his opportunites Darren zipped for 15 yards, tack on an unsportsman penalty, down to the Tiger 8. The next hand off resulted in an 8 yard touchdown. The p.a.t. failed. Unfortunately Darren was injured and finished for the evening. Darren was the spark plug and his loss not only affected the offense but a stalwart on defense was a devastation.
Princeton had a 3 yard kick off return to the Tiger 42. An incomplete pass preceeded a 58 yard touchdown gallop by Eli Henke, plus a 2 point conversion by Ben Berwanger, suddenly cut into the Wildcat lead, 20 to 16 with 51 seconds before halftime. The quick score, by Princeton, put new life and momentum on their side. Milan 20 Princeton 16 with 51 seconds at halftime.
Milan began the third quarter from the Wildcat 45 after the kick off went out of bounds. The Wildcats took 5 minutes off the clock, running 10 plays, covering 55 yards with the Wildcat ground and pound, scoring on a 3 yard Deric Doporto surge and Dominic Dabney 2 pointer for a 28 – 16 lead with 7 minutes left in the third stanza.
Mallan had 8 yards on 1 carry, Dominic 5 attempts for 23 yards and Deric 4 touches for 24 yards and the touchdown.
Princeton answered quickly. Three rushed netted 8 yards and a fourth down situation from their own 31. Ben Berwanger, broke a couple arm tackles and out ran everyone 69 yards to the end zone and a 28 – 22 deficit with 5 minutes left in the quarter.
Chekh Niasse gained 10 yards on the ensuing Tiger kick off at the Milan 29. The Wildcats responded with another scoring drive. Four minutes, 8 plays and a two touchdown lead, 36 – 22 with :58 seconds before the end of 3 quarters. A 38 yard dash by Dominic was the bust out play of the series. Dominic carried three times for 55 yards. Deric 5 times for 16 yards and touchdown. Dominic dashed in the two point conversion.
A return for 3 yards put Princeton to the Tiger 45. Two running plays produced 10 yards to the Milan 45. A 20 yard pass completion to the Milan 25 ended the third quarter.
Ben Berwanger ran 19 yards to the Milan 6 to open the final stanza. A Tiger penalty and an Axel tfl on a forced fumble put the Tigers back to the 14.
Two attemps by Eli Henkeput the ball on the Wildcat 1. A bad snap and fumble and Jacob Jaimes recovered for Milan at the Wildcat 8. After two rushing attempts and a Milan Penalty, put the ball at 11, facing a third down 11 yards for a first down. Mallan’s pass was intercepted and returned for a pick six touchdown. The 2 point conversion was good and the lead was cut to 6 points 36 to 30. On the Wildcat’s next possession, Milan went for a first down on a fourth and 2 situation from their own 33. The Tiger defense rose to the occassion, stopping the Wildcats short of the first down.
With the momentum totally in the Tigers favor, Princeton took over at the Wildcat 34 at the 5:45 mark. Four running plays put the ball at the Milan 1 yard line. A Tiger penalty pushed the ball back to the 6 yard line. Axel and Dominic teamed up for a 3 yard tfl, back to the 9 yard line.
Ben Berwanger scored on the next play, the 2 point failed but Princeton evened the score 36 to 36 with 3:06 left in the contest.
Byrce Sinclair had a sweet 15 yard kick off return to the Milan 36. Dominic ran for 12 yards to the 48. Four yards for Deric and Milan was in Tiger territory at the 48. Two Tiger tfls put Milan back to their 48 and forced to punt. Deric booted a 48 punt to the Tiger 4 yard line with 1:55 on the clock. Ben Berwanger aain busted loose for 59 yards to the Milan 37. On the very next snap Eli henke took the pigskin to the house and the Tigers first lead of the game. No 2 pointer, but the Tigers led 42 to 36 with 1:40 to play.
No kickoff return, Milan began their last series from their own 29. Mallan rushed for 4 yards, a Wildcat penalty, back to the 28. Jacob Jaimes churned for 5 yards to the 33. An incomplete pass set up a fourth down and 6. Mallan completed a pass to Dominic for 2 yards. Game and season over for the Wildcats. Princeton 42 Milan 36.
Offensively: Milan rushing attack gained 354 yards on 65 attempts with 5 touchdowns and 3 two pointers. Princeton ran 43 times for 324 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3 two pointers. Dominic Dabney ran 28 times for 182 yards and 2 two pointers. Deric Doporto 23 attempts for 118 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 two pointer. Darren Deporto, 5 attempts for 38 yards with 2 touchdowns before being injured, Mallan Cole, 8 attempts or 11 yards and 1 touchdown, Jacob Jaimes, 1 carry 5 yards.
Princeton Tigers two main ground gainers: Ben Berwanter, 15 touches 179 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 2 point, 2 fumbles, Eli Henke 23 attemps 127 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 two pointes, 3 fumbles. The Tigers had 6 turnovers, Milan 2.
Passing: Milan 2 for 5 for 0 yards, 1 interception for touchdown; Princeton 4 for 6 for 70 yards. Dominic 2 catches for 0 yards. Return: Bryce Sinclair, 1 fo 15 yards, John Ray Le La Cruz, 1 for 5 yards.
Defensively: “The Beast” Axel Pagan led Milan for the last time, 8 unassisted tackles, 2 assists, 3 tfs, 2 forced fumbles; Dominic Dabney, 5 unassisted, 2 assists, 1 tfl; John Ray Le La Cruz, 1 unassisted, 3 assists, 3 tfls; Deric Doporto, 2 unassisted, 1 assists, 2 tfs; Dominic Shirley, 3 unassisted, 1 assist; Bryce Sinclair 1 unassisted, 1 tfl, 3 assists; Jacob Jaines, 2 unassisted, 2 assists, 1 fumble recovery; Darren Doporto, 1 unassisted, 2 assists; Jordan Ponce, 1 unassisted, 1 assist; Riley Shoemaker, 1 nassisted, 2 assists; Chekh Niasse, 1 unassisted, 2 assists; Jeremy Bennett, 2 assists; Christin Chaparro, 1 assist; Mallan Cole, 1 unassisted, 1 assist.