MILTON, Ga. — The cards were stacked against Milton in their second-round playoff matchup with Archer Friday night. The Eagles trailed the No. 10 team in Class 7A by two scores in the second half. They were also without their captain and starting quarterback, junior Devin Farrell, a crucial member of the offense who couldn’t play due to turf toe.
In the end, that didn’t stop the Eagles, who overcame adversity and fought back to win, 17-9, earning a spot in the state quarterfinals for the second time in three years.
“2020 is all about adversity,” Milton head coach Adam Clack said. “We had a huge one coming in this game without our captain, our starting quarterback. But man, we believed. We believed in Adam Freas. We believed in our O-line. We believed in our special teams. We believed in our running backs. We believed in all the guys playing defense and coming over and helping on offense. This team just found a way. They believed.”
The game got off to an inauspicious start for Milton. The Eagles tried to punt on their second drive but were unsuccessful. The snap went high and rolled into the end zone for a safety, giving Archer an early 2-0 lead.
The Tigers received the ensuing kickoff and set up with good field position, starting their drive at the Eagles’ 45-yard line. They found the end zone in less than two minutes and went up 9-0 with 3:18 remaining in the first quarter.
The Eagles responded with a field goal on their next drive, as Jason Aussin connected from 40-yards out and made it a 9-3 game early in the second quarter. Though the Eagles trailed heading into the third quarter, Milton’s defense played lights-out in the second half. The Tigers punted four times in the half and turned the ball over with a fumble.
Meanwhile, Milton’s offense began finding its groove with Freas at quarterback.
The Eagles marched down the field and found the end zone for the first time of the night on a 10-yard run by Jordan McDonald. The extra point by Aussin put the Eagles ahead for the first time of the night with 9:45 left in the game.
Following another Archer three-and-out forced by Milton’s swarming defense, the Eagles got the ball back at their own 47-yard line with 8:17 remaining in the game.
Freas later gave Milton some breathing room, rushing for a 5-yard touchdown to extend the Eagles’ lead to 17-9 with under six minutes left.
Just as they did the entire second half, Milton’s defense locked down Archer and denied any shot at a comeback. Sophomore L.T. Overton and senior Dayne Edwards came up with back-to-back sacks, and Archer was forced to punt the ball back to Milton.
The Eagles weren’t able to run out the clock, but they came close. Archer received a punt at its own 13-yard line with 24 seconds left and zero timeouts remaining.
The Tigers had one more chance, but it was simply too tall of a task. The game clock hit zero with Milton on top, 17-9.
The Eagles’ team performance earned the program its second trip to the quarterfinals in three years, the first since their 2018 state championships run.
“The boys came out and got punched in the mouth early,” Clack said. “It put us in a bad position, dug ourselves a hole, but we stayed with the plan and believed in our defense that they would give us enough opportunities and wear them down, and we would find a way in the end.”
Freas completed 7 of 13 pass attempts for 72 yards and rushed six times for 36 yards and one touchdown. McDonald led the Eagles in rushing with 133 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries. Sophomore cornerback Bryce Thornton, who had one interception and one fumble recovery, carried the ball the nine times for 42 yards. Overton, who made a name for himself on defense, had multiple sacks and several tackles for a loss.
In the 7A quarterfinals, Milton (11-0) will host Lowndes (9-1), who will make the four-hour trip from Valdosta for the game.
Lowndes’ one loss this year came at the hands of undefeated Colquitt County, the No. 2-ranked team in Class 7A. Lowndes, ranked No. 4 in 7A, shut out Newton, 42-0, in the first round and edged No. 8 North Cobb, 21-13, on the road in the second round.
The Vikings feature four-star junior quarterback Jacurri Brown, whose offer list includes Georgia, Florida, LSU and Ohio State, and three-star senior linebacker Thomas Davis, who is committed to Miami.
As for Milton, Farrell’s status for the quarterfinals remains questionable at this point. The quarterback was fully dressed out on the sidelines against Archer, but Clack said he is unable to put much pressure on his injured foot.
Regardless of Farrell’s status for the game, the Eagles will face more adversity in what is likely their toughest opponent yet this season in Lowndes. Even though the Vikings must make the road trip from Valdosta for the game, they’ll likely be favored by media and computer projections, as they have been the higher-ranked team throughout the season.
It will be a tough battle, but the Eagles aren’t short on belief or talent.
“It’s really easy now, in my opinion, to just say, ‘Any given night,’” Clack said. “You may not be the best team all year long, but if you can be the best team that night, then it’s down to four. Then it’s down to two and who weathers the storm.”