MILTON, Ga. – Coming off back-to-back losses after starting the season 5-0, the Milton Eagles faced the possibility of having a once-promising season dashed with a loss last Friday night, Oct. 25, against longtime nemesis Walton.
The Raiders had defeated the Eagles 13 straight times dating back to 1995, and led 21-13 in the third quarter. But Milton responded with touchdowns on consecutive possessions to pull out a 28-21 victory and remain in contention for a Region 5-AAAAAA playoff berth.
The Eagles are 3-2 in the region and 6-2 overall, and tied for third with Walton and Cherokee, just behind co-leaders Etowah and Lassiter at 4-1.
Milton hosts Cherokee this week in another key region game, with a victory likely locking up a playoff spot for the Eagles and keeping alive their hopes of a home game in the first round of the state playoffs.
“This was very satisfying, very gratifying,” Milton coach Howie DeCristofaro said of his team’s comeback victory. “We stayed the course and did not change direction. The kids still believed in what we’re doing.
“They wanted to win so bad,” he said. “After halftime, they were itching to get back out on the field.”
Things did not start well for the Eagles, who yielded 400 yards passing and four touchdowns of longer than 50 yards in a 33-3 loss to Lassiter. The Raiders hit the Eagles with an immediate 49-yard pass over the top of the Milton defense and went on to take a 7-0 lead.
But the Eagles came right back when Chad Toliver returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, with the Eagles forcing Walton to kick again after the first attempt went out of bounds.
Toliver, who is shouldering much of the offensive load after the early season injury to standout tailback Treyvon Paulk, enjoyed a huge game. He rushed for 177 yards and Milton’s two second-half touchdowns that erased Walton’s lead. He also broke a 56-yard run to set up a Jordan Genovese field goal that gave the Eagles a 10-7 lead after Milton stopped a fake field goal by the Raiders.
Genovese added a second field goal to make it 13-7 after the Eagles again came up with a fourth down stop. A 44-yard pass from Austin McLeod to Zack Spiezio, one of only two completions for the Eagles, was the key play on the drive.
The Raiders took the lead with a long drive late in the first half, and went ahead 21-13 with a touchdown in the third period after Milton failed on fourth down in Walton territory.
The Eagles responded with a 74-yard drive, all on running plays, with Toliver darting into the end zone from 21 yards out. A leaping grab by Spiezio of a McLeod pass tied the game 21-21.
Milton’s defense took control of the game at that point, allowing Walton just 5 yards on the Raiders’ last four series, ending one on an interception by Jordan Parisian.
Toliver scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 6-yard run, setting up the score when he reversed field and eluded Walton defenders to put the Eagles inside the Raiders’ 15.
“Chad really stepped up Friday night,” DeCristofaro said. “And we played better as a team. We had no turnovers.”