By Zach Shugan
MILTON, Ga. — For the second time in program history, the Milton Eagles will play in the state semifinals.
Milton trailed three different times against Mill Creek in the quarterfinals Friday, but the Eagles had an answer every time and were able to put away the talented Hawks, 36-27, to advance to the 7A final four.
“[Mill Creek] tested us in every way and we had to overcome ourselves at times, but man, that’s what it’s all about,” Milton head coach Adam Clack said. “You got to be able to find a way when you’re not at your best sometimes. We had awesome individual efforts and we had an awesome team effort, and we kept overcoming. That right there just speaks to the character and culture of what these young men are all about.”
Mill Creek struck first with a touchdown after forcing Milton to punt on the game’s opening drive. Momentum fully favored the Hawks after they forced the Eagles to punt again on their second drive, but the next two plays shifted the course of the game.
On first down for the Hawks, Brayden Holmes came up with a leaping interception to get the ball back in Milton’s possession. The next play, Jordan McDonald took a direct snap, broke a couple tackles and ran 92 yards for a touchdown.
Mill Creek re-gained the lead on its next drive with a field goal, but Milton answered immediately with a two-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped off by a 57-yard touchdown pass from Devin Farrell to Brooks Bortle.
Playing with a lead for the first time, Milton added to it with a touchdown from its defense. All-American LT Overton forced a fumble and Robert Billings scooped up the ball and returned it 50 yards for the score. Overton carried the ball into the end zone for a two-point conversion, giving Milton a 22-10 lead.
The Eagles led 22-17 at halftime after the Hawks scored the final points of the half on a touchdown pass. Then, on the first drive of the second half, the Hawks reached the end zone again to take a 24-22 lead.
Just as they did the first two times Mill Creek jumped in front, the Eagles answered the call. Overton, all 6 feet 5 inches and 265 pounds of him, lined up at quarterback, took the snap from shotgun and barreled his away ahead for a 2-yard touchdown.
Milton didn’t trail Mill Creek again after the big man’s touchdown made it 29-24. The Hawks scored one more time on a field goal, then the Eagles put away the game with a scoring drive that drained the clock — and hope out of the Hawks. McDonald lined up at quarterback every play, making it clear they planned on running the ball. Mill Creek still couldn’t stop them from slowly working their way 90 yards to the end zone on a drive that took over seven minutes off the clock.
“We called in our closer Jordan McDonald and like the ‘Night Shift’ (bullpen) with the Atlanta Braves, he put the game away for us,” Clack said.
McDonald rushed for 200-plus yards for the second game in a row, posting an even 200 yards and two touchdowns a week after his 241-yard, three-touchdown performance in the second round of the playoffs.
Now, the Eagles shift their focus to the state semifinals, a place they’ve only been once before in program history. That was in 2018, the year they also won their first state championship.
“We talk a lot about Thanksgiving practice and what that symbolizes,” Clack said. “There are no pretenders left. It’s only contenders. But our goal was never to just get there. Our goal was to check that off along the way because the best practice is the one right before a state championship. That’s what we’ll be working towards all this week.”
Milton (12-1) will play Walton (9-3), the No. 3 seed from the same region as North Cobb and Marietta, in the state semifinals. The Raiders earned a spot in the final four after going on the road in the first three rounds and defeating Colquitt County, Archer and then Brookwood.