Milford ends three decades of frustration with 41-40 nail biter over unbeaten Anderson

Eagles likely gain first playoff berth since 1986

ANDERSON TOWNSHIP, Ohio – The Milford football team jumped up and down in jubilation on its sideline at 10 p.m. Friday.

The 30-year postseason drought was likely over. The celebration had just begun.

“This is huge,” Milford senior defensive lineman Bryce Dugan said.

Milford earned that likely trip to the playoffs and at least a share of the Eastern Cincinnati Conference title with a 41-40 win over previously unbeaten Anderson.

The Eagles (8-1, 6-0 Eastern Cincinnati Conference) are projected to make the playoffs for the first time since 1986 and could host a first-round game in Division I, Region 4, according to playoff projections analyst Steve Shuck. 

With one week to go, Milford moves up from No. 6 to No. 3 with the win, according to Shuck.  Here's his new projection for Region 4:  1. St. Xavier, 2. Colerain, 3. Milford, 4. Mason, 5. Sycamore, 6. Fairfield, 7. Elder. 8. Moeller.

Shuck also said Anderson is projected at No. 3 in Division II, Region 8. That's the only significant change in Region 8 as of Friday night.

For Milford coach Tom Grippa, it was one of his most rewarding victories as a longtime area head football coach.

Grippa started as a head coach in 1987 at Elder. After stops at Fairfield and La Salle, Grippa coached four years at Mount St. Joseph. He said Friday night that high school football is where he belongs.

“We’ve worked really hard for this,” Grippa said. “This is something that’s been a long time coming for the city and school district of Milford. I am so proud to be a part of it. I am honored to be a part of this. I can’t wait to see what’s in the future for us because our football program is only going to get better.”

Milford rallied from a 28-7 second-quarter deficit to provide one of the most dramatic wins in the 2017 season.

And it came down to a fourth-down play.

Trailing 40-35, Milford was at the Anderson 7-yard line with three minutes remaining when Grippa called timeout and gathered his offense to the sideline.

The playoff berth possibly hung in the balance.

The play call was executed well when junior running back Cameron Kells caught an 8-yard pass from senior quarterback Blake King to score the game-winning touchdown.

It was a similar play the Eagles converted with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter in the season-opening win at Oak Hills.

“I live for this,” Kells said. “It’s awesome.”

Kells finished with 20 carries for 98 yards and a touchdown. He had six receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown.

His father, Chris Kells, was a kicker and punter on that ’86 team. Chris had tears in his eyes as he embraced his son on the field Friday night.

“It means so much to us,” Cameron Kells said. “We’re super excited. I am so proud of my teammates.”

There were so many standouts for Milford on this autumn night that saw Anderson lead for most of the game.

King was 17 of 29 passing for 227 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns.

Senior Evan Baugh’s 9-yard touchdown reception with 8:55 left gave the Eagles their first lead of the game at 35-34.

Baugh also had a key interception right before halftime as the Redskins threatened to score at the Milford 6.

Dugan’s 45-yard interception return at 2:19 of the second quarter put Milford within seven at halftime (28-21).

Anderson went ahead 34-21 on senior wide receiver Austin Watt’s 9-yard touchdown reception with 4:39 left in the third. Watt scored again with 7:22 left in the fourth to give the Redskins a 40-35 lead. He finished with 16 receptions for 200 yards and three touchdowns.

Anderson senior quarterback Jay Volpenhein surpassed 7,000 career passing yards Friday night and entered the OHSAA’s all-time list. He was 31 of 47 passing for 341 yards and four touchdowns.

Volpenhein nearly led the Redskins on a game-winning drive with under a minute to go. He connected with Watt on a 14-yard pass to put Anderson in good position in Milford territory.

But, several plays later, an incomplete pass in the end zone on fourth down gave Milford the ball.

Hugs and high-fives started for Milford.

 “It was amazing,” Dugan said. “There was so much emotion going through everyone’s mind.”

Despite the loss, Anderson (8-1, 5-1 ECC)  is still projected to host a first-round game in Division II, Region 8. Entering Friday, Anderson was No. 2 in the Region 8 computer points standings. Anderson is also No. 2 in the Associated Press Division II state poll. 

Milford closes the regular season next week by hosting West Clermont. Anderson plays host to Walnut Hills.

RELATED: Thirty years later, Milford players from '86 team cheer their sons

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