Firebirds Lose to Bigger Milford Millers

The Millers’ defensive line proved to be a formidable match for the Firebirds. Photo by Matthew Yoder.

By Matthew Yoder

Arcadia’s status as underdogs against Milford Mill Academy was cemented when the schedules were set for the season.  Hailing from just outside Baltimore, the Millers traveled with 44 athletes, a host of collegiate talent, and a recognizable chip on their shoulder, and though the  Firebirds fell 28-12, the loss was by no means indicative of the goliath effort they entertained their fans with.

A good kickoff by the Firebirds’ Airey Finney was fumbled by Tyree Sheppard, and the Millers started the game pinned deep in their own zone.  The Millers left no doubt they were going to rely on the play of star running back Jordan Morant. The 220-pound, Wake Forest recruit, opened the game with an 18-yard run to the right.

The opening drive quickly rose to the level of a back-and-forth prize fight. The Millers prolonged their drive out of several third down situations with Morant in charge. On a third and 7 he was, however, stopped ably by Brandon Bibbins short of the first down.  On fourth and 4, quarterback Rishon Holmes threw a screen pass out right to Jarell Gainer for the first down. Another run by Morant and a pass play from Holmes to Sheppard placed the Millers at the Firebirds’ 9 for first and goal.

As the drive unfolded, Arcadia’s coach Alan Hall, aware of the beast they were up against, commented, “I would rather have them work this hard to score than come out with the big play.”

The 15th play of the drive culminated in a truly stunning moment for everyone in attendance. Holmes fumbled the snap, and Mr. Serendipity, Jaden Hope, picked up the ball and sprinted with Holmes chasing for an 85-yard score. The Firebirds missed the extra point, but for a brief time held the lead against a juggernaut.

Hall’s fear became reality on the Millers’ second drive. It’s as though the fire had been lit under them in Hope’s touchdown, and Holmes opened with a deep pass play down the left sideline to Cory McCormick for 60 yards. This time on first and goal, Morant ran up the middle for 6 yards, negating the Firebirds lead in a matter of seconds. The Millers, too, missed the extra point, evening the score.

Arcadia’s offense waited 17 plays and much of the first quarter before taking their first snap. The drive failed to make positive gains and in punt formation the Firebirds’ kick was blocked by Cam Murray. Milford Mill Academy took over at Arcadia’s 35-yard line and the defense found themselves in compromised circumstances. They absolutely rose to the occasion. Keith Grinnage sacked Holmes on the first play for a loss of ten. On second down, Hope slowed the Millers’ receiver in the backfield for a loss of nine, and Grinnage and Bibbins stopped Morant for short yardage on third and 29. The quarter ended a draw and the intrigue was firmly established.

The strong competition was fun for players and coaches alike. “Dogfight, this is awesome,” said assistant coach Dan Macca.

Arcadia opened the second quarter with great field position out of a bad punt, but fumbled on the ensuing snap and again their defense found their backs against the wall. Morant exploded for a 40-yard run down to the 3-yard line. Ryan Rose and Demonta Copes stopped Morant at the line of scrimmage on first down, but he wouldn’t be stopped on the next play. He ran for the 2-point conversion as well. At this point the score was Morant 14, the Firebirds 6.

The teams would then go on to trade a series of punts. Arcadia was unable to establish anything on offense. They inserted Kamron Downing at quarterback but their drives continued to stall. Khalif Robinson and Eric Smith Jr. dominated the line of scrimmage on defense for the Millers, and Kobe Roberts pursued well to the corners.

Lethon Williams keeps his eyes upfield after receiving the handoff.
Photo by Matthew Yoder.

Arcadia’s defense constructed a firewall to keep the game within distance. Although Morant gained yards at will, the Firebirds frustrated the Millers into mistakes. Late in the quarter Hope chased Holmes in the backfield and a strong hit by William Scarborough on Holmes forced Milford Mill Academy into a punt. The Millers downed the punt at the Firebirds’ 1-yard line. Facing no margin for error, Arcadia ran twice to get breathing room but on third and long a pass to Lethon Williams proved devastating. Fighting for a first down, Williams fumbled and Jamar Gainer recovered for the Millers at the 7. Two plays later Morant walked into the end zone. As stunning as Hope’s early touchdown was, this proved to be difficult for the Firebirds psyche headed into halftime.

The defense of both teams dominated the third quarter. Airey Finney, Downing, and Grinnage played large for Acadia, stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback.

Robinson, Smith, and Roberts seemed to converge in one way or another on every defensive stop for the Millers. However, as professional as their team looked on the surface, at times the Millers played amateurish. They racked up unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for taunting, one after another, acting as a team that believed they were up 50 points. They came with a very large contingent of players that they cycled in and out, while on the other side Arcadia became decimated by injuries.

Morant asserted himself for another touchdown on the ground in the fourth quarter, driving the score to 28-6.

The Firebirds continued to fight. They inserted Hope at quarterback and mounted an epic late game drive that ended with a dazzling one-handed touchdown reception by Williams for 12 yards. Their offense fought hard to put points on the board and make the game truly a respectable outcome.

“I’m alright with score,” said Hall. “They weren’t necessarily better, there were just more of them.”

Assistant coach Jeff Shaffer implored people to take stock of Milford Mill Academy’s prior games this season to judge Arcadia’s effort. “Look at the scores of their other games,” Shaffer said.

To a man, the Millers’ coaches were impressed with the opponent on this night.“There wasn’t a lack of effort,” they agreed. “The defense played tough.” What matters most is what Arcadia’s coaches believe of their team moving forward in the playoff push, and this game sat well with them across the board.

“This game helped us a lot, it was a great test and nobody laid down,” said assistant coach Kyle Williams.

Those who braved the plunging temperatures were treated to a real war of wills from a proud Arcadia football team.

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