By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
WEST MILTON — The last time the Milton-Union football team was in the playoffs, its current seniors got to watch the game from the sidelines, for the most part.
Saturday, they’ll get their chance to shine.
Milton-Union (8-2) qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2016 this year despite being bumped up from Division V to IV. And they will be welcomed to the D-IV, Region 16 playoffs by undefeated defending state champion Wyoming in a Week 11 game Saturday night at Wyoming.
For the Bulldogs, it’s a return three years in the making.
“They’re really excited to be back in the playoffs,” said Milton-Union coach Bret Pearce, who has only been back in the head coaching job with the team for two seasons. “These seniors got to experience it their freshman year, but then we’ve gone the last two without making it. They got to see what it’s like from the sidelines their freshman year, and they’re definitely excited to experience it for themselves.”
And even though Milton-Union has had such a solid season — winning its first five games and then only losing a pair of close ones, one of those in overtime — it still found itself on the bubble heading into Week 10. The Bulldogs were 6-2 after a 49-48 overtime loss to Valley View in Week 8 and were hovering between the No. 7 and 9 spots in the standings with only the top eight getting into the playoffs, and with two-win Dixie and one-win Carlisle remaining, they didn’t even control their own destiny.
“We knew there were a lot of things that were out of our control,” Pearce said. “So we focused on the things we could control. We tried to get better each game the last two weeks and take care of the opponent in front of us, and we hoped that everything else worked out. And it did.”
The Bulldogs did their part, routing Dixie 54-7 and Carlisle 49-13 to finish with an 8-2 record, and in the end they wrapped up the eighth and final playoff spot, setting up a first-round matchup at the 10-0 Wyoming Cowboys.
Wyoming is on a 25-game winning streak, having gone undefeated during its state championship run in 2018. And each of the two seasons before that, the Cowboys posted undefeated regular seasons before falling in the regional finals.
Senior quarterback Evan Prater leads the way, throwing for 1,440 yards on 84 of 136 passing for 19 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He is also the team’s leading rusher with 991 yards and 14 scores on 141 carries — including 303 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-18 win over Indian Hill in Week 10, their closest game of the season so far.
“Absolutely, it’s certainly going to be a tall task,” Pearce said. “But there’s nobody bad in the playoffs. It’s not like you’re going to get some 2-8 team in the first round. And so we get Wyoming, and they are certainly very good. Their quarterback is very good.”
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are led by seniors A.J. Lovin and Nathan Brumbaugh.
Lovin does a bit of everything, leading the team with 677 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, as well as leading the team in receiving with 605 yards and 12 more scores on 27 catches. Add in two interception returns for touchdowns, as well as two kickoff and punt returns for scores, and Lovin had a historic year for the Bulldogs.
Brumbaugh, meanwhile, had a solid year passing, going 75 for 136 for 1,411 yards — second in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division — for 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. And if Lovin draws all of the defense’s attention, Kayge Thwaits has rushed for 600 yards and seven touchdowns and Blake Neumaier has 303 yards and four scores.
“Offensively, we definitely feed off of those two,” Pearce said of Lovin and Brumbaugh. “A.J. set our single-season touchdown record with 30 touchdowns, and he was named SWBL Offensive Player of the Year. But teams can’t focus on him, because Nathan can hurt you through the air, and then we have a couple of other running backs, Thwaits and Neumaier, who take care of the tough work in between the tackles.”
Because Milton-Union knows that, in the playoffs, nothing comes easy — especially when facing a defending state champion.
“A lot of those kids haven’t lost a football game in two years. We’re going to have to be very focused and play a good game,” Pearce said.
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
©2019 Miami Valley Today, all rights reserved.