It means a lot. We’ve worked really hard to get here. It’s all about our fans, we’ve done this for the community. —Milford senior linebacker Brian Williamson.
CEDAR CITY — It probably seemed like a never-ending rebuilding project for the football community in Milford, but on Saturday it was all worth the wait.
Milford ended a 23-year state title drought at Southern Utah on Saturday with a convincing 28-14 victory over defending state champion Duchesne.
“It means a lot. We’ve worked really hard to get here. It’s all about our fans, we’ve done this for the community. Tigers all the way,” said Milford senior linebacker Brian Williamson.
Milford jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead behind the arm and legs of quarterback Bryson Barnes, and the defense made sure it held up in the second half much to the delight of the partisan crowd at Eccles Coliseum.
Milford lost to Duchesne 21-12 back in Week 5 of the preseason, but coach Thane Marshall said that experience was an important step in the evolution of the program.
“We went up there, and we didn’t have the mental capacity to beat them earlier in the year,” said Marshall.
Beating Kanab two weeks later was the feather in the cap the kids needed to believe they could beat anybody, which came to fruition on Saturday.
“They grew up mentally that day, and ever since then, they’ve had confidence. This week in practice they’ve just been loose. We played it just like another football game,” said Marshall.
Barnes completed 11 of 19 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns in the victory, but perhaps more important were his 16 carries for a season-high 90 rushing yards. Six of his runs went for first downs as Duchesne rushed only three much of the game.
“They were covering the receivers downfield, and when you rush three, as my defensive coordinator says, ‘when you rush three it leaves open lanes for the quarterback,’” said Marshall. “You watch at any level a quarterback that is mobile is tough to defend.”
Despite never trailing, Milford faced a brief moment of adversity to start the second half when a halfback pass led to an interception. Duchesne scored five plays later on a Weston Poulsen touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-7.
The momentum was short-lived for Duchesne.
Milford recovered Duchesne’s onside-kick attempt and then seven plays later Ty Netto marched into the end zone for a 3-yard score that stretched the lead to 28-7 with 7:34 left in the third.
Duchesne briefly made things interesting with 1:43 left in the game when a Jarett Spencer 1-yard TD run cut the deficit to 28-14 — and then it followed by recovering the onside kick. It quickly went backward as Milford got the state-title clinching defensive stop it needed.
Milford’s offense was in a groove early, scoring on its opening two possessions for a 14-0 lead with 2:48 remaining in the first quarter.
It drove 80 yards in nine plays to take a 6-0 lead as Jaxon Davis hauled in a 13-yard TD pass from Barnes.
Following a quick Duchesne three and out, Milford needed just three plays to stretch the lead to 14-0 as Cole Wilson was the recipient of a Barnes’ 33-yard TD pass.
“That was our game plan, we’ve got to get up early and see what they can do,” said Williamson.
After Duchesne picked up just one first down on its first two drives, the defending champs started to figure things out on its third drive. It methodically marched on a 16-play drive, but it stalled on three straight incompletions at Milford’s 25-yard line.
Milford followed with its own lengthy drive, which also resulted in no points on the scoreboard as Barnes was stopped at the 1-yard line on a fourth-and-goal with 3:06 remaining in the half.
Both teams punted on their next possessions, and it looked like Milford would march into the locker room up 14-0. Duchesne, however, muffed a punt with 42 seconds remaining in the half and the Tigers took advantage as Barnes connected with Wilson on a 31-yard TD pass for the 21-0 lead.