MILTON, Ga. — Milton football made history Sept. 14 by becoming the state’s first high school football team to play in California when the Eagles took on California powerhouse JSerra Catholic in the Trinity League vs. USA showcase at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif.
While the result did not go the Eagles’ way — they fell 17-14 in a contest that went down to the wire —the experience was unlike any other in the realm of high school football.
“You could not have scripted a better three days,” head coach Adam Clack said. “Watching the team grow and spend time together and share a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can’t put a price tag on that or manufacture that experience. To see them form those bonds, it was awesome, and the kids behaved so well.”
There were certainly logistical challenges related to transporting 82 players, an entire coaching staff, support personnel and parents through airports, bus rides and hotels, but Clack said there were no issues.
“From airport customs, loading buses and being on a super tight schedule, the kids were always on time,” he said.
Outside of their football contest, the Eagles also spent time enjoying the sights, sounds and experiences of Southern California.
Just a few hours before most Atlanta area teams were huddled in locker rooms away from the severe weather that delayed or postponed most Friday games, the Eagles were enjoying their time in the sun and on the sands of Venice Beach. And for a few minutes, they had the unique experience of running play walk-throughs with the Pacific Ocean providing background.
“The experience of something like that really tied together where we were and what this trip was about,” Clack said. “We were at the Pacific Ocean to play a football game and to have the experience of building a team through shared moments.”
After touring UCLA and holding a tailgate party, the Eagles strapped up for their contest against JSerra, ranked in the top-50 nationally by MaxPreps and High School Football America.
After falling to Georgia powerhouse Buford on Sept. 6, the Eagles took another close, frustrating loss.
Milton took a 14-7 lead into halftime behind a touchdown rush from Ahmad Junearick and a Jack Nickel score on a fake punt, but the Eagles couldn’t close the game out in the second half.
“The defense played really well in the first half, and the offense was moving the ball well,” Clack said. “We had a lot of good things going for us, but we came out in the second half and couldn’t pick up where we had left off. In the first half [JSerra] was looking tired, they flipped that on us in the second half.”
The Lions opened the third quarter with a long drive but came away scoreless. But after both teams exchanged several possessions, JSerra broke through to tie the game midway through the fourth.
The Eagles opted to go for fourth-and-short in their own territory on the ensuing drive. While Clack said they were confident in the play call, the Lions forced a turnover on downs.
JSerra took advantage with a field goal to take its first lead of the contest with around two minutes remaining, leaving Milton in need of a quick scoring drive.
“We orchestrated a nice drive and got it down to [JSerra’s] 20-yard line, and we wanted to take one shot to the end zone with one time out and about 10 seconds left,” Clack said. “Unfortunately, we gave up a sack and it moved the ball backwards and knocked us out of field goal range.”
With one second left on the clock, the Eagles went for the game-winning Hail Mary, but their dramatic comeback hopes were dashed with an incompletion.
“I definitely think we represented ourselves and our state well, but it’s tough because we really would have liked to have represented with a win,” Clack said. “We have come up short two weeks in a row, but we have fought hard in both games. We are still growing and learning, and we have areas we can improve on. We talk about some of the little things that make a difference after these close loses, and once we address those, we’ll come out with hard-fought wins in these close games.”
Despite the disappointing loss, Clack said he and the team are forever grateful for the experience.
“I have to give a huge shout out to our booster club and parents and fan support we had along the way for helping us make this possible,” he said. “It stings we had a loss, but at the end of the day this is a lifelong memory for these kids, and it will grow the team, the program and the community. We appreciate all the love and support.”