By Zach Shugan
MILTON, Ga. — Disclaimer: It was just a preseason scrimmage and should be viewed as such.
But if Thursday night was any indication of what’s to come this season for Milton, then Eagles fans might want to clear their calendars for the night of Dec. 11 and plan on being in Atlanta.
Milton looked that good Thursday as it trounced a perennial power in Class 6A’s Westlake. The scrimmage was called off early in the fourth quarter due to lightning with the Eagles leading 35-21. All of the Lions’ points came in the second half after Milton, the consensus No. 1-ranked team preseason in Class 7A, jumped out to a 22-0 lead on Westlake, GPB Sports‘ No. 4-ranked team in Class 6A.
It’s hard to watch how the Eagles played against a team like Westlake and think they won’t be, at minimum, making a deep run in the playoffs. But Milton head coach Adam Clack cautioned against putting too much stock into the scrimmage victory.
“I know [Westlake] had some guys out and they weren’t game planning for us,” Clack said. “It’s really not about them. It’s just about coming out for the first time. The stock I put into it is we’re kind of where we need to be at this point in time. Like I said there’s things to work on but physically and from an understanding standpoint, I feel like our guys are in a good place right now.”
Clack’s words shouldn’t be confused with doubt of his team’s ability or fear of the high expectations people have for them. He doesn’t seem to mind the hype surrounding the program or have any worries about it going to the players’ heads.
“We have high expectations for ourselves, so it’s good that people match those expectations,” Clack said. “Our guys aren’t scared of that. They’ve played big ball already. There’s a lot of guys who have played big moments in other sports. If anything, I feel like it helps us hone ourselves in. We talk a lot about it. If you get those expectations put on you that’s all fine and great, but we got to come out and put in the work and play the game.”
It doesn’t take long to see why people have expectations for Milton. The offense is loaded with future Division I college football players and the defense has the No. 1-ranked junior in the nation and is deep at every level, from the front seven to the secondary.
Early in the first quarter of the scrimmage against Westlake, Virginia Tech quarterback commit Devin Farrell connected with senior Adam Freas on a 45-yard deep ball to the end zone to put Milton on the board first.
Westlake tried to get on the board shortly after with a field goal, but Bryce Thornton blocked the kick then Robert Billings scooped the ball and took it all the way for a touchdown. Following a successful two-point conversion from Farrell to Michigan State commit Jack Nickel, the Eagles took a 15-0 lead.
After the defense came up with another stop, the offense quickly added to Milton’s lead. Farrell scrambled for a 62-yard pickup, then Jordan McDonald took a handoff three yards for another Milton touchdown. Two plays was all it took that drive, and Milton took a 22-0 lead into their locker room at halftime.
McDonald (12 carries, 83 yards, 2 touchdowns) scored again in the third quarter on another 3-yard run. Less than a minute later, his backup, junior Scott Moskowitz, took his first handoff of the night and ran 55 yards untouched for a touchdown.
McDonald watched Moskowitz break through the defense from Milton’s sideline and cheered “Yeah Scott!” a few times, then ran out on the field after the play to celebrate.
There was certainly plenty to celebrate Friday night for the Eagles, and if their 2021 season goes how many in the state expect it to go, there will be plenty more to celebrate between now and mid-December.
The key to making that a reality, Clack said, is not getting ahead of themselves.
“This is just another step in a big mountain we’re going to try to climb. We’ve tried to have a great perspective all the way back to spring with how we build this thing. We’re very methodical and trying to hit our check marks at the right time. There’s an art to peaking. You don’t want to try and rev that engine too fast or too early.”
Milton will officially kick off the 2021 season at home against Hapeville Charter on Aug. 20. A week later, the Eagles will head to Kennesaw to take on Class 7A’s No. 2 ranked North Cobb in a game that’ll be televised nationally by ESPN.
Two weeks after that on Sept. 11, Milton will be in Philadelphia to play St. Joseph’s Prep, a team that finished the 2020 season ranked No. 6 in the country by High School Football America. Milton was ranked No. 87, the ninth and final team from Georgia to make the top 100 list.