By Josh Brown
WEST MILTON — For Milton-Union safety William Morris, it wasn’t the three interceptions in one quarter.
Or even tying a school record for most interceptions in a game by one player.
“Winning the football game, that’s for sure,” the sophomore said.
His Bulldog teammates can attest to that.
After Friday’s season opener against Miami East was suspended until Saturday morning with the score tied 7-7 at halftime, Milton-Union maintained momentum and went up by two scores on a pair of third-quarter touchdown runs by Zac Shields. But after the Vikings cut the lead to only six with 9:26 to play, Milton-Union had to fend off three more Miami East possessions to hold on — and Morris ended each of those possessions with an interception, including one final one with 6.5 seconds on the clock to seal a 20-14 Bulldog victory Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
And after the dust settled in the matchup between two playoff teams from last season, Milton-Union coach Mark Lane agreed with Morris.
“I can’t even explain it. There’s nothing like the feeling of winning a football game,” he said.
On Friday night, Miami East (0-1) took the lead early in the second quarter on a 32-yard screen play from Ian Gengler to Levi Adducchio, but the Bulldogs tied the score right before halftime on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Zach Vagedes. But during the halftime show, lightning in the distance forced the game to be postponed — and it never let up, moving the start of the second half to Saturday.
And Milton-Union (1-0) kept that momentum going to begin Saturday’s third quarter. After forcing a quick three-and-out, the Bulldogs drove the ball 65 yards on seven plays — with Krue Thwaits and Zac Shields each posting two runs of 10-or-more-yards in the first six plays. Shields then finished off the drive with another solid run, weaving his way through blocking on the left side for a 16-yard touchdown to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the game at 14-7.
And after Tyler Courtright recovered a fumble at midfield, Milton-Union went 47 yards in 10 plays. Shields again put the ball in the end zone, running around the left side of the line to give the Bulldogs a 13-point cushion at 20-7 after three quarters.
Shields finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, Thwaits had 69 yards on 15 carries and Blake Smith had 15 yards on six carries as Milton-Union had 206 rushing yards total in the game, with Vagedes also completing three passes for 45 yards.
“Zac finished his runs great, and he was able to finish those runs because everyone out there was finishing their blocks,” Lane said. “The kids blocked well from whistle to whistle.”
“They’re high school kids, and you don’t know how they’re going to respond to something like that,” Miami East coach Max Current said of picking up again after the overnight delay. “I think Milton responded a little better to it than we did. They came out and punched us in the mouth in that third quarter. But I did like how we responded after that.”
After the Bulldogs missed the extra point on their second touchdown of the third quarter, the Vikings fought back.
Arron Adams took the ensuing kickoff at the East 15-yard line and ran it all the way back to the Bulldog 40, a 45-yard return that breathed life back into the Vikings. They went those last 40 yards in 12 plays, converting one fourth down and two third downs along the way. It seemed like the drive would stall after a false start penalty on third-and-goal from the 1 pushed them back to the 6-yard line, but Adams took a pitch around the right side on the next play for a 6-yard touchdown that made it a six-point game at 20-14 with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter.
East’s defense then got a stop, but the Bulldogs pinned the Vikings back at their own 3-yard line with a stellar punt by Kiefer Jones. But a quick completion from Gengler to Adams for 17 yards got their back away from the wall — only to have Milton-Union’s Morris intercept an overthrown pass at midfield to kill the drive.
“We came out, got that touchdown and got a stop on defense to get the ball back,” Current said. “We gave ourselves two or three more chances — but then we had three straight possessions end in interceptions.”
“William really knows how to play the middle of the field in a passing situation,” Lane said of Morris. “He’s like a center fielder back there in baseball.”
“We just had to tighten up and come together as one,” Morris said. “Coach always talks about being a team and coming together and being one big family, and we just had to come together and make the big stops.”
Miami East forced another three-and-out and got the ball back on their own 19 with 3:50 to play. They made it as far as the 40, but on third-and-10 a Gengler pass was tipped at the line — and right into the waiting hands of Morris at the East 37-yard line.
Milton-union managed to take 1:09 off the clock with that possession but turned the ball over on downs with 44 seconds left. But on third-and-1 from their own 44, Gengler was forced to throw a hail mary — and Morris was in the right spot one final time to wrap up the game.
“The second one was all my teammates,” Morris said. “They got his hands up, tipped the ball, and I just did what I could to help the team. The third one, I was just playing my position, not letting anyone behind me and just setting me up to be in the right spot. Without my teammates, none of that would have been possible.”
Adducchio finished with 116 yards on 21 carries to lead the Vikings, Adams had 33 yards on seven carries and Colt Frazier had 23 yards on eight carries as Miami East piled up 167 total yards rushing. Gengler also went 5 for 10 for 66 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions through the air.
Miami East hosts National Trail, which is 0-1 after a 50-0 defeat at Preble Shawnee, in Week 2 to open Cross County Conference play.
“We’ve got some growing pains to go through this year,” Current said. “That’s a good football team we just played. We gave a great effortthere were just some execution things we need to iron out. But our guys battled. I was proud of them. Now we’ve got to put this behind us, get refocused and get ready for our first league game next week against National Trail. We’ve got a league title to defend.”
Milton-Union, meanwhile, will host 0-1 Oakwood, which lost 30-29 to Mariemont. Until then, they’ll enjoy this feeling.
“When winning football games stops feeling good, that’s when I’ll stop doing this,” Lane said. “But I don’t expect it to stop for a long time.”