MILTON, Ga. — Anytime Milton and Roswell square off, the stakes are high and the tension is palpable.
But bragging rights were not the only thing at stake when the teams met for the 66th time in Saturday night in Milton. Now that the teams are back in the same region, the game also had region championship implications, especially considering both the Hornets and Eagles entered the night undefeated in 5-7A play.
With all that and more on the line, Milton held off a late comeback attempt to defeat the previously-unbeaten Hornets, 20-14, and take control of their region with two weeks left in the regular season.
“It’s a great win against a great team,” Milton head coach Adam Clack said. “You don’t need the region to make it matter a lot, but now that we have it in the region I love that. I love the rivalries and all that stuff, but that’s more for the fans. Now we get to really make it count, which I think makes it more special. It was great to see our guys hold on there and grit it out at the end as things started not breaking our way.”
Milton shot out to 20-0 lead after the offense scored on three of its four drives in the opening half, and the defense forced Roswell to punt on all four of its drives.
Roswell received the opening kickoff, and Milton held the Hornets to a three-and-out. The Eagles took over on offense and drove 75 yards in six minutes, culminating with a 4-yard touchdown run by Jordan McDonald.
Milton’s next score came on a 1-yard rush by McDonald, who amassed 73 yards on 10 carries through the Eagles’ first two drives. The PAT was blocked, keeping Milton’s lead 13-0 early in the second quarter.
Milton extended its advantage to 20-0 later in the quarter with McDonald finding the end zone from 5-yards out for his third score of the night. The touchdown would be the Eagles’ final score of the night, but the Milton defense said, “We got it from here.”
Roswell did score twice in the fourth quarter and appeared to have momentum on its side, but Milton secured the victory as time dwindled away.
Roswell avoided the shutout with an early fourth-quarter score from running back Ryan Stephens. The Hornets received two gifts from Milton on their way to scoring, as the Eagles were flagged for roughing the kicker and pass interference to keep the Hornets’ drive alive.
Following a stop by the Roswell defense, the Hornets got a dramatic touchdown to further their comeback bid .
On fourth-and-26 from Milton’s 37-yard line, Robbie Roper lofted a deep ball high in the air, and Michael Fitzgerald snatched it down for a score to cut Roswell’s deficit to 20-14 with less than five minutes remaining.
The Hornets were unable to get the stop they needed, though.
Milton moved the chains a few times and kept the clock rolling until they could get into victory formation and take a knee to end the game.
The Eagles gained 381 yards total on offense (264 rushing, 117 passing) compared to Roswell’s 258 yards (194 passing, 64 rushing). McDonald finished the night with 23 carries for 121 yards and all three of Milton’s touchdowns. Junior quarterback Devin Farrell passed for 117 yards and rushed for 76 yards.
“I think without a doubt, especially when you consider who the competition was, it was our best half of football offensively,” Clack said. “But you got to play 48 [minutes]. It wasn’t a great third quarter, but awesome job of executing four-minute offense at the end to keep their explosive offense off the field and not give them another shot.”
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the 5-7A playoff picture is starting to develop.
Milton, Cherokee and Roswell seem primed to take the top three spots in Region 5-7A, though the order in which they will occupy those spots is undecided. Alpharetta and Woodstock remain in contention for the final playoff spot, but Etowah is not mathematically eliminated from the postseason.
The Eagles’ destiny is in their hands following the win over Roswell. Victories over Woodstock and Cherokee would earn Milton its third consecutive region championship and a No. 1 seed in the 7A state playoffs.
With a region title and playoff seeding on the line, Clack doesn’t want the Eagles to rest on their laurels as they close out the regular season.
“I hope the mindset is ‘Get better on Monday,’ Clack said. “That’s what we’re trying to build in this culture. We’re down to 10 practices left guaranteed. If we can make every one of those practices count, we’re going to be in the playoffs and in the best possible position that we can be in.”
Milton plays next Nov. 13 at Woodstock (3-5, 1-2) and finishes the regular season at home against Cherokee.
Roswell (6-1, 2-1) wraps up its regular season at home against Alpharetta (2-3, 1-2) and Woodstock.