CONWAY — In a battle of two heavyweights of Division II football, South Division Milford (5-1) bludgeoned the North Division Kennett High Eagles (5-1) on Friday night at Millen Stadium, en route to a commanding 35-7 halftime lead. The Eagles regrouped at halftime to play a much improved second half, but the four-touchdown halftime deficit was too much to make up for in the final 42-21 loss.
Simply put, Coach Vaughn Beckwith summarized the Eagles defensive woes in becoming the third consecutive victim of a Milford 40-plus point scoring offensive: "They were big, they were physical and we didn't execute our defensive plan very well."
After winning the coin flip and deferring to receive the kick in the second half, the Eagles were unable to stop Milford from marching 74 yards on a seven-play drive, all running plays, to a 7-0 deficit only 3:17 into the game. The visiting Spartans established their line domination on the very first play with a 15-yard sweep to the left. A 40-yard run off left tackle down to the Kennett 10-yard line was the biggest play of the drive. The KHS defense stiffened to hold the physical Spartans to runs of 5 and 3 yards from there, but Milford ran a deceptive QB draw to score on third-and-goal from the 2.
The Eagles first offensive possession led to a three-and-out, with a subsequent punt giving Milford a short field with the ball on the KHS 45-yard line. Kennett's best defensive sequence of the night followed: after conceding 6 yards on a quarterback keeper to a deceptive, and according to Beckwith, "much improved" Gavin Urda, the defensive line flushed out the elusive QB on second down, forcing an off-balance throw and incompletion. On third down, TJ Holland came up with a big sack, forcing a Milford punt on fourth-and-14 yards to go.
Even special teams of Milford were dominant on the night, as the punt rolled dead on the KHS 5-yard line. Kennett fought out of that hole with a 33-yard pass from Parker Coleman to a diving Braeden Bailey. On the next set of downs, a five-yard penalty against the Eagles and a sack prevented any further Kennett advance. On the ensuing punt, Urda caught it cleanly at the Milford 30-yard line, juked right and evaded two tacklers, before cutting left and sprinting untouched into the end zone for a 70-yard TD return. The Spartans kicker, on target all night with six of six extra points, made it 14-0 with 1:33 remaining in the first quarter.
Another three and out by the Eagles, followed by a five-play (all runs), 50-yard march by the Spartans increased the Kennett hole to 21-0 with 10:18 remaining in the half.
The Eagles responded with their one big offensive play of the first half when Coleman connected with Dom Jones on a 15-yard pass over the middle which Jones then ran to the Spartans’ 2-yard line for a 70-yard gain. Tanner Bennett bulled into the end zone from there, and Bailey's sure extra point cut the margin to 21-7 with 9:29 remaining in the second quarter.
Kennett hopes were soon dashed when the Spartans produced scoring drives of 74 yards on five running plays and 82 yards on five plays, again highlighted by the deceptive Urda with a play-action pass and his final 40-yard scamper to the land of six. Sandwiched in between, the Eagles featured another Coleman to Bailey connection for 28 yards, before an interception in the right flat, on Coleman's one mistake of the night, turned the ball over.
The Eagles opening second-half drive included two pass completions to the Milford 25-yard line, but the drive ended with an incompletion in the end zone on a fourth down play. The Spartans ground out one first down before their big back Junior Ughu rumbled for a 60-yard gain down to the Kennett 5-yard line where Russell Chick made a valiant diving tackle to prevent the score, but the Spartans ran the ball in two plays later for a 42-7 lead with 6:38 left in the third quarter.
The Coleman to Bailey passing connection shone again in Kennett’s ensuing drive, with Bailey receiving tosses for gains of 15 and 12 yards before an 8-yard touchdown reception cut the deficit to 42-14.
Milford recovered the on-side kick, but the Eagles countered when Ethan Ouellette intercepted a Spartan pass and returned it 60 yards on a pick-six for the final score of the night.
Beckwith cited Coleman, who "hung in the pocket" well, and Bailey, whose multiple receptions "gave us a chance," as two Eagles who played well. In moving forward with the process of improving, Beckwith anticipates a focus on tackling during this week's practices.
Next up for the Eagles, Gilford-Belmont (3-3) will try to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, hosting the Eagles in a 2 p.m Saturday kickoff.
Beckwith expects their next opponent to present a totally different style, with less deception in their offense. Coach shared what the Eagles will need to do better: "better tackling, better reads on defense and stop (Gilford-Belmont's) one big playmaker."