By Josh Brown
WEST MILTON — In Mark Lane’s third season as Milton-Union’s football coach, is Bulldogs showed what they were capable of, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
And they were one extra point away from extending the 2015 season even more.
After going 5-15 in those first two seasons under Lane, the Bulldogs began the season with four wins in their first five games and split their regular season matchups against a whopping four playoff teams, earning not only a postseason berth but also a home game in the first round. But the Greeneview Rams upset Milton-Union 35-34, with a blocked extra point in the fourth quarter being the difference in the game.
Entering the season, the Bulldogs were a dark horse pick in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division, but they were confident in themselves — and they showed exactly why in Week 1 against Miami East.
The Vikings got their only score of the game on the opening drive, but the Milton-Union defense held tough the rest of the way — and the offense scored 21 unanswered second-half points to being the season with a 21-7 victory. Quarterback Blake Smith hit Tommy Smith with an 85-yard touchdown pass in the third, then the Smiths hooked up again on a hook-and-ladder play, with Tommy Smith pitching to Kaleb Rue to finish off a 60-yard touchdown that gave the Bulldogs the lead for good.
It was the first time in Lane’s brief tenure as coach that the Bulldogs had a winning record. They opened the 2013 season with seven straight losses and finished 2-8, and in 2014 they had to wait until Week 4 for their first victory in a 3-7 season. The Vikings, meanwhile, went on to finish the season 8-3 and reach the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
But that first win was only the beginning. The Bulldogs outscored Week 2 opponent Oakwood 20-8 in the third quarter and Zac Shields piled up 192 yards rushing for the game, scoring the eventual game-winning touchdown late in the third as Milton-Union held on for a 36-30 win.
Against a strong Tippecanoe team in Week 3, though, the Bulldogs hit a wall despite a competitive performance, falling 35-12 as the Red Devils scored three touchdowns of 50 or more yards. The Devils went on to go 10-2 on the season, winning a playoff game and reaching the regional quarterfinal for the third straight season.
Milton-Union bounced back with a 29-22 win over Northridge, surviving a 500-yard-plus passing night by the Polar Bears’ quarterback, and then in Week 5 the Bulldogs put in their most convincing performance of the season to that point with a 31-14 win to improve to 4-1.
The Bulldogs hit their roughest patch of the year in the next two weeks, though. At Madison, Milton-Union could only manage a Keifer Jones interception return for a touchdown in a 14-6 loss, then in Week 7 the Bulldogs couldn’t pull off an upset against then-undefeated Brookville in a 34-13 loss. Madison finished the year 7-3, while the Blue Devils went 12-1 and lost in the regional championship game.
Needing a Week 8 win against Carlisle, the Bulldogs delivered. Milton-Union jumped out to a 22-7 halftime lead and shut the Indians out in the second half, holding on for a 28-7 victory over what proved to be another playoff team — Carlisle finished the season 6-5, losing to Brookville in the playoffs’ opening round. And with a 41-8 victory over Dixie in Week 9, Milton-Union clinched a berth in the postseason.
And before the Week 10 game at Waynesville was even over, the Bulldogs had put the wraps on a home game in the playoffs’ first round — which proved to be a good thing, as the Spartans handed them a 34-17 loss, Milton-Union’s only defeat against a non-playoff team all season. Milton-Union claimed the No. 4 seed in the Division V, Region 20 playoffs, earning a home game against the fifth-seeded Greeneview Rams.
Greeneview built a 28-14 halftime lead and made it a 21-point game early in the third quarter, but Kaleb Rue scored a 21-yard touchdown and Zac Shields an 18-yard one to cut the lead to 35-28 in the fourth. And then Blake Smith hit Keaton Lucous for a 14-yard score, setting an extra point that would have tied the game. But Ethan Bradds blocked the kick, and the Rams escaped with the win, ending the Bulldogs’ season and advancing to the next round where they would lose 49-7 … to Brookville. The Blue Devils finally lost in the regional title game to eventual champion Coldwater, which went 15-0 on the season.
And while the Bulldogs said goodbye to a large group of seniors, the team has a host of returning talent coming back for the upcoming season to continue building on everything they’ve already accomplished under coach Lane.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.