When Sean Williams went to his first offseason weight room session at Milford Mill back in summer, the first person he encountered was football coach Reggie White.
“He pulled me to the side and said we’re going to win a state championship,” Williams said.
It was a big proclamation by White, who has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of Milford Mill football for five decades.
Friday, White and the Millers experienced ecstasy. No. 3 Milford Mill defeated Kent Island, 25-16, for the Class 2A crown at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
Williams finished with 124 yards and a touchdown for the Millers (14-0 overall), and junior quarterback Deshawn Purdie threw for another. Tommy McAndrew passed for two touchdowns for Kent Island (12-2).
The wait - 12,789 days long - is finally over for Milford Mill. It’s previous championship happened in 1987, Nov. 28, 1987 to be exact, when Milford Mill defeated Havre de Grace at the University of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium.
The game can be found on YouTube. You’ll see No. 72 in Milford’s green and white, making plays from the defensive line.
His name: Reggie White. The man who has been synonymous with Milford Mill for two generations yelled in joy before the postgame press conference early Friday evening
“It’s been 35 years since 1987 when I was a player, we went 13-0 and it was hard going 14-0 as a coach,” said White. “Been down here twice in 17 and 21 and we came up short. This feels so much better.”
Nearly five years ago, a somber White stood in the front of the podium at Navy Stadium, thanking the Milford Mill community, players and coaches and vowing to return and win a championship. Three hundred and sixty days ago, it was a deja vu all over again after losing to Douglass-Prince George’s County.
The Millers finally broke through the proverbial championship door Friday, thanks to a third straight gut check-esque performance.
“We capitalized off of their mistakes…we were killing ourselves in the first half,” said Williams, a transfer from Mount St. Joseph. “We adjusted and stopped making mistakes.”
Two lost fumbles turned a 7-0 Miller lead into a 10-7 halftime deficit. The Millers were confronted with adversity, something they crumbled under, losing a three-touchdown lead in the 2017 3A final and falling behind 22-0 in last year’s 2A final.
The 2022 Milford Mill football team had a different mentality.
“We all can relate to each other more. We’re brothers to each other,” said Miller sophomore Derrell Pierson. “We have fun in practice everyday…when it’s time to lock in, we lock in.”
Pierson came up with a 16-yard reception on 4th down-and-4 on the Millers’ first drive of the second half. Two plays later, Purdie bullied his way across the goal line for a touchdown, giving Milford Mill the lead.
Purdie, who scored the winning touchdown in the final seconds of last week’s state semifinal victory over Stephen Decatur, produced arguably the defining momentum-changing play of the season, escaping the pocket and hitting senior David Diggs near the sidelines for 29 yards on 3rd-and-11 near midfield.
“We got real guys on this team,” said Purdie, a transfer from Mount St. Joseph who finished 13-of-20 for 138 yards Friday. “Sometimes we get in our own heads, but we always come together and fight through adversity.”
After being nicked by an unexpected Kent Island passing attack, Milford Mill’s defense zoned in over the final 24 minutes. Senior Darrell Jackson followed teammate Emmanuel Gee and Coby Jones’ sack duet with an interception to end Kent Island’s next possession.
Milford Mill, set inside Kent Island’s 40 after Jackson’s interception, wasn’t able to take advantage. The Buccaneers drove their 23 to Milford Mill’s 30, but Jackson and Mehki Hebron brought down quarterback Tommy McAndrews on fourth down with 7 minutes, 46 seconds left in regulation.
About three minutes later, Purdie found Pearson near the sidelines around the Kent Island 15-yard line on 4th-and-6. The junior eluded a would-be Kent Island tackler, slipped out of two more tackles and went into the end zone, giving Milford Mill a 19-10 advantage with 4:56 left in regulation.
Kent Island, playing in its first state final, tried to get something going as McAndrews threw a quick pass in the flat to running back Kasey Heath.
Heath didn’t turn for the ball, and junior defensive back Koby Jones easily stepped in front and went untouched 20 yards to the end zone, making it 25-10, just 11 seconds after Pearson’s score.
“They’re a run heavy-team but they switched on us and threw a lot,” said Milford Mill junior linebacker Malachi Barnes. “They came out running in the second half and we shut it down.”
Kent Island closed to 25-16 on McAndrews’ 8-yard touchdown pass to Tucker Claxton with 1:35 left in regulation. An onsides kick attempt failed to reach the 10, and Milford Mill got the ball at midfield.
With four seconds left, the Millers got into “victory” formation. Purdie got the snap, wheeled five yards backward and put his right knee down on Navy’s grass field.
And a celebration, 35 years in the making, was on for Milford Mill.
The Millers steamrolled through the regular season and their first two postseason games. Milford Mill had to go the distance against Frederick County’s Walkersville (trailed at half), Stephen Decatur (trailed entering the fourth) and Kent Island to complete its championship journey.
“We told the starters we haven’t played a whole game all year except Franklin and this might get tough,” said White. “We told them when you run, run a little harder. When you eat, eat a little less. We got to do this.
They heard me. They did it. We didn’t give up. We got down, but we didn’t fight each other. We made adjustments.”
White, who added the long-awaited state title with a coaching victory with Team Maryland in the Big 33 Classic to his impressive resume, said he loosened the reins this year.
“Don’t overcoach. Let them have some fun,” said White, in his 20th season (172-74) at his alma-mater. “Know when to push them. Keep them on task.”
The Millers finally crossed the championship altar Friday and a place in history.
“This has been our main objective since the offseason in the weight room,” said Jackson. “We got the job done. Now, we celebrate.”
CLASS 2A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
NO. 3 MILFORD MILL 25, KENT ISLAND 16
Kent Island 0 10 0 6 - 16
Milford Mill 7 0 6 12 - 25
Milford Mill Milford Mill - Sean Williams 8 run (Eric Garcia kick)
Kent Island - Max Barba 34 field goal
Kent Island - Kasey Heath 34 pass from Tommy McAndrews (Barba kick)
Milford Mill - Dashawn Purdie 1 run (kick blocked)
Milford Mill - Josh Pearson 23 pass from Purdie (kick blocked)
Milford Mill - Coby Jones 20 interception return (pass failed)
Kent Island - Tucker Claxton 8 pass from Tommy McAndrews (kick failed)