The Moore League football clash at Millikan High on Friday night was decided by defense, special teams and a last-second two-point conversion attempt. The Rams broke up that fake extra point to survive a Wilson comeback for a 21-20 win in front of a capacity Homecoming crowd.
Millikan (6-2, 4-1) clinches second place in league with the victory, and an automatic CIF Southern Section playoff berth. The Rams are ranked No. 5 in Division 7. Wilson (5-4, 3-2) needs a win over Compton next week to also clinch a playoff spot in Division 6.
After going down 21-7, Wilson scored twice in the fourth quarter to force a game-deciding play with 30 seconds left. The Bruins trailed by one after quarterback Ryan Pettway found receiver Michael Bruner in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-goal.
“We came in here to win,” Wilson coach Mark Ziegenhagen said. “I gave the kids the option to kick it or win it, and they wanted to win it.”
Wilson lined up for the extra point after Millikan called a timeout, but holder and backup quarterback Jacob Shaw pulled the snap for a designed fake. The senior rolled to his left and tried to hit a receiver in the end zone, but Millikan senior Zach Martin broke up the pass to conserve the lead. The Rams recovered the ensuing onside kick, and ended the game in victory formation again. Millikan has had three of its league wins decided by less than five points.
“It’s understanding the four quarters of winning,” Millikan coach Justin Utupo said of pulling out narrow victories. “You start the game fast, second quarter is attention to detail, third quarter is effort and enthusiasm, and fourth quarter you have to finish strong. This group understands that now. If they continue to play four quarters of winning football we’re going to have a special year.”
The Millikan defense had a special night with a season-high four turnovers, as defensive back Albert Fuller had a pair of interceptions. The Rams came into the night with only two interceptions this season, and Wilson quarterback Ryan Pettway had only thrown one prior to this game.
“I wasn’t surprised because I knew it was going to happen eventually,” Fuller said of his defensive getting turnovers. “A lot of teams don’t pass on us, so we took advantage of that. We just made big plays tonight.”
Millikan senior Jayden Davis opened the game with an interception on the first drive, but the Rams missed two short field goals after turnovers. The game remained scoreless until Millikan quarterback Qeanu Campbell-Caldwell hit running back Jaylen Jefferson for a short touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half.
Wilson tied the game on the second play of the second half when defensive back Soloman Bowie turned his tipped interception into a pick-6 score.
The Millikan special teams, and specifically punter Jerron Lincoln, helped the Rams win the field possession battle for the rest of the night. The junior punter pinned Wilson inside its own 5-yard line twice, and a penalty on a Bruins punt set up the second Millikan score with running back Qu’Juan Campbell’s 35-yard touchdown.
Wilson fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Campbell-Caldwell turned that possession into another touchdown when he found Jayden Davis for a 21-7 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter.
The Bruins defense stiffened up after that, and gave their offense a chance to make a comeback in the fourth quarter.
Wilson running back Marcos Nottingham cut the lead in half on his fourth down touchdown from two-yards out with about nine minutes to play. After the Bruins successfully converted their second fake punt of the night to keep the final drive alive, Pettway hit receiver Michael Bruner for a fourth down score that made it 21-20 with thirty seconds to play.
“The way they were celebrating (the touchdown) we knew they weren’t going to kick it,” Millikan linebacker Nik Lombardi said. “I was thinking that when you’re away, you want to get the win and go home. No one for a second thought it was just going to be a PAT.”
When Shaw’s pass was broken up by Martin, the massive home crowd erupted.
“Even our fans stay in it too,” Utupo said. “I’m proud of the crowd coming and supporting us, and we’re going to need everyone on deck if we’re going to do some damage this year in the postseason.”
“Hopefully we’ll grow from it and next week come back stronger,” Ziegenhagen said.
QB Qeanu Campbell-Caldwell: 12/22, 101 yards, 2 TD, INT
RB Qu’Juan Campbell: 17 carries, 117 yards, TD
RB Jaylen Jefferson: 57 all-purpose yards, TD
WR: Zach Martin: 6 receptions, 60 yards
QB Ryan Pettway: 10/20, 90 yards, TD, 3 INT
RB Marcos Nottingham: 33 carries, 175 yards, TD
WR Kevin Sperry: 4 receptions, 35 yards