A magical season with so much promise met its end on a frigid night, to an opponent Milton-Union had vanquished before, but could not defeat again.
By Jeff Gilbert For PressProsMagazine
Piqua, OH – Blake Brumbaugh’s high school football career had been over for almost half an hour. The decision to walk off the field for the last time wasn’t coming easy.
So he lingered with a few Milton-Union teammates on the frozen turf at Alexander Stadium, walking slowly toward the locker room, still wearing his helmet. The temperature was 22 degrees, but Brumbaugh didn’t notice the cold.
He was already numb from what had just happened. Still, he found some words to describe the loss his team didn’t see coming.
“We did everything bad for about three quarters of the game,” Brumbaugh said. “Just play good and we probably would have won, but we didn’t. We played really bad.”
The Bulldogs rarely resembled the team that had won 13 straight games to reach the Division V, Region 20 final. Still, they had a chance in the fourth quarter to beat a team they had beaten 24-14 on August 26.
But Valley View, as it had been for most of the game, was the better team when it had to be in the fourth quarter and celebrated a 21-7 victory. The Spartans, who won three state titles in the 1990s, added to their tradition with an eighth regional title and will play unbeaten Ironton on Friday at Cincinnati Princeton in the state semifinals.
The Bulldogs, who made it this far in 2006 and 2012, still don’t have a regional championship.
“I just think we were so ready that we stepped over where we need to be and we lost our focus,” Brumbaugh said. “We false started on easy plays, and I messed up a couple plays. We all just did bad.”
The Bulldogs trailed, 14-7, and had been outgained and overall outplayed when the tone of the game changed. They sacked Valley View quarterback Caden Henson to put the Spartans in third-and-19. After the Spartans punted, the Bulldogs were 80 yards from tying the score.
Six straight running plays that included runs of 15, 19 and nine yards by Michael Elam moved the Bulldogs to the Valley View 16 with more than nine minutes to play. Valley View called timeout, and the game changed again.
Elam was stopped for two yards. Then Valley View linebacker Bryce Reed knifed into the backfield a cut down Elam for a one-yard loss. Brumbaugh was stopped for no gain on the next play. On fourth-and-nine, Mason Grudich’s 32-yard field goal attempt just missed to the left.
Valley View coach Matt King said the timeout allowed his defense to adjust to a new formation the Bulldogs were running.
“We didn’t recognize it very well, and it was pretty good call on their part,” King said. “Then Bryce knifed through, and it was a huge play.”
The Bulldogs weren’t out of time, but they were out of big plays. The Spartans, however, had a big play left and showed the quick-strike ability that worried Bulldogs head coach Bret Pearce. Henson threw short to the left side to Austin Stidham, his leading receiver. And Stidham did the rest.
A quick move made a Milton defender miss and Stidham raced the final 50 yards to the end zone untouched and almost unseen by the defense for a 60-yard score and a 14-point lead with 8:19 left.
The Bulldogs still had enough time. But on third-and-10, Nathan Morter threw down the middle where Stidham went high and stole the ball from a receiver near midfield for his fourth interception of the season. And the Bulldogs’ were done.
Stidham said the interception was the bigger play. “You don’t get any points for it,” he said. “But it really killed at the end of the game.”
Valley View outgained the Bulldogs. 377-232. Henson passed for 204 yards and rushed for 64, including two important third-down scrambles. Jake Clark rushed for 105 yards on 21 carries. The score could have been worse for the Bulldogs.
The Spartans drove to the six-yard line to start the game, but Cooper Brown intercepted Henson at the goal line. The Spartans moved to the 24 on their next possession, but a false start pushed them back and they turned the ball over on downs. Henson’s 38-yard third-down scramble set up Stidham’s three-yard score the next time the Spartans got the ball.
The Bulldogs followed with their best offensive moments on a 90-yard drive. Brumbaugh caught a short pass and made two defenders miss as he moved up the sideline for a 34-yard gain. The ground game finished the drive and Jordan Foose scored on a 10-yard run to tie the score, 7-7, late in the first half.
“That really helped when we scored,” Brumbaugh said. “We just needed some more big plays. Nothing was going right tonight.”
Pearce could only think of the uncharacteristic mistakes his team made, especially early in the game.
“We never really recovered,” he said. “They took advantage and got momentum. We got a little back right before halftime, but I don’t think they got our best effort tonight.”
For 13 weeks, however, the Bulldogs performed like champions. They were rarely challenged on the scoreboard and Brumbaugh led a cast of Bulldogs on the all-Southwest District team as the Division V offensive player of the year.
“It’s something that you really dream about, winning the league and going to the regional finals,” he said. “Things just kept going right. The chemistry was there, the team bonding was there, the coaches were great. It was fun every minute, every minute of every practice, every game.”
But as he stood in the cold, his thoughts quickly returned to the game he had just played. And all he could really feel was the bitter cold of losing.
“How we lost is very sad,” he said. “You kind of want a game where you lose in the playoffs to be, ‘Wow, they were way better than us.’ But tonight, we just we didn’t do what we should have done.”