By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
CINCINNATI — Evan Prater and top-seeded Wyoming began Saturday’s playoff game with some shock and awe.
But Milton-Union responded with what it does best — some old-fashioned football.
“We played with a lot of heart, and I think that’s what we’ve seen all year from these guys,” an emotional Bulldog coach Brett Pearce said. “We weren’t always the biggest team on the field, but we had big hearts, and I think that showed to everyone that came out and watched tonight.”
In the end, though Prater’s star power — as well as his six touchdowns, five of them on the ground — proved to be too much to overcome as the Milton-Union football team’s season came to an end in the first round of the Division IV, Region 16 playoffs in a 49-18 loss to the defending D-IV state champion Cowboys at Wyoming High School.
Prater, one of the highest-ranked quarterback recruits in the state and a University of Cincinnati commit, finished the game with 229 yards and five touchdowns on 18 carries, and he was also 8 for 11 passing for 93 more yards with one touchdown and one interception. Freshman CJ Hester added 139 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries as the Cowboys — who have had four straight undefeated regular seasons — improved to 11-0 and won their 26th straight overall.
“He’s really good, and they’re a very good team,” Pearce said. “And the way their receivers block downfield just shows how well coached that team is. They’re definitely going to make some more noise.”
And even though Milton-Union, which finished the season 8-3 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2016, knew what it was up against coming in, they were still caught off guard early. The Bulldogs turned the ball over with a fumble on their second play from scrimmage, then Prater hit Joop Mitchell with a 34-yard touchdown pass on the very next play to spot Wyoming an early 7-0 lead just 56 seconds in.
From there, though, the first half was a dogfight.
Milton-Union responded to that early turnover with an epic 19-play march, going 87 yards and converting one third down and three fourth downs along the way. Blake Neumaier converted the first fourth down with a short run at the Cowboy 32-yard line, then on fourth-and-4 from the 24, quarterback Nathan Brumbaugh hit Kayge Thwaits with a 10-yard pass over the middle to keep the drive alive. And on fourth-and-5 from the 9, Brumbaugh hit A.J. Lovin with a fade in the corner of the end zone to cut Wyoming’s lead to 7-6 with 52 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
“That was the gameplan, and that’s what we wanted to do,” Pearce said. “Run a little bit different of an offense than they’ve seen from teams in their league and hopefully keep them guessing, pound the ball and play Bulldog football.”
Lovin, the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division’s Offensive Player of the Year who had a record-setting scoring season for the Bulldogs, was definitely the focus of the Cowboys’ defense, being limited to two rushing yards and 15 receiving on that first drive and 48 yards of total offense all night. But the other Bulldogs picked up the slack — something that has been a theme for the team all season.
“That’s the way this team is built,” Pearce said. “We definitely have some kids that can be explosive. But when we’ve got 11 guys on the field, all 11 know their job. If they were double-covering A.J., that left 10 of our guys on nine the rest of the way.”
Stopping Prater, though, proved to be as tough as advertised.
Wyoming went 65 yards on eight plays on its next series, with Prater capping it off with a 6-yard touchdown run to make the score 14-6 with 9:18 left until halftime. Brumbaugh then hit Neumaier with a short screen pass that Neumaier turned into a 60-yard touchdown reception, but a failed two-point try led Milton-Union down 14-12 with 7:56 on the clock.
Prater then took a run to the left sideline and cut across the field all the way back to the right one, diving into the corner of the end zone to finish off a 43-yard touchdown run and give the Cowboys a 21-12 lead — which was where things eventually remained at the half after another Wyoming touchdown on a desperation heave at the buzzer was erased by an offensive pass interference call.
And though the kept battling as long as they could in the second half, the Cowboys were just too much.
Prater scored on an 11-yard run on the third quarter’s opening possession to make the score 28-12, then the Cowboys went 85 yards in nine plays — two of which were long touchdowns that were taken off the board by penalties — with Prater eventually scoring on a 1-yard plunge to make it 35-12 with 5:48 left in the third. Brumbaugh hit Blake Brumbaugh in stride for a 61-yard quick-strike touchdown on the Bulldogs’ next possession, but Wyoming answered with a 10-yard score by Prater to take a 42-18 lead into the final quarter.
Lovin intercepted a Prater pass early in the fourth, but the Bulldogs were forced to punt and Hester capped off a 71-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run to give Wyoming a 49-18 lead with 6:51 remaining and turn on the running clock. Nathan Glisson then intercepted a pass, and the Cowboys killed the clock from there.
Nathan Brumbaugh finished the game 10 for 19 for 204 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, while Neumaier had 38 yards on 11 carries to lead the team in rushing and added 76 yards on three receptions with another score, with Blake Brumbaugh adding 76 more yards and a touchdown on two receptions. Lovin finished with 28 yards and a touchdown on three receptions and added 20 yards rushing.
“This group was so fun because of the leadership shown by the seniors and the way the team just all played together,” Pearce said. “We didn’t have cliques or groups. This really was one team, and they played their hearts out for each other all season.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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