Millikan’s preseason schedule presented them with a healthy variety of opponents and challenges. After a one-possession game in the season opener, the Rams suffered a lopsided loss to high-powered Carlsbad before earning a blowout against St. Anthony last week. With La Mirada (3-1) visiting a lively DeHaven Stadium on Friday night, Millikan (1-3) once again found itself with a winnable game against an evenly matched opponent.
Unfortunately for the young Rams, the opportunity slipped by them as La Mirada mustered a late touchdown drive, taking a 27-26 lead with 45 seconds to play to secure an exciting come-from-behind victory.
“I think the kids played well, we have to do a better job as coaches to put our kids in better positions and make sure they’re good to go on both sides,” said Millikan head coach Romeo Pellum. “But overall I think this is the most complete game we’ve played all year. So at the end of the day, that’s progress going into league.”
Millikan was poised to claim its second consecutive home victory, leading 23-6 with 7:09 left in the third quarter, but La Mirada’s running game took a stranglehold of the second half to earn the comeback win.
The Matadores ran the ball 47 times for 211 yards, led by a 27-carry, 131-yard performance from senior running back Edward Lafferre. His four-yard touchdown plunge in the final minute proved to be the winning score, and he intercepted a hail mary from Millikan quarterback Myles Jackson on the Rams’ final drive to finish off the game.
“The key to the game for us was running the ball,” said La Mirada head coach Mike Moschetti after the game. “(Millikan) is a lot better team than they were two years ago when we played them. I think we ran for 400 yards two years ago, and I knew that they were going to do everything in our power to stop the run. But what I’m most proud of is that we haven’t quit. We were down and our defense made plays when they had to make plays. It’s a great win and we’re gonna celebrate it tonight.”
After Millikan opened the scoring with a 39-yard Noah Scott field goal, La Mirada marched down the field to take a 6-3 lead on Lafferre’s first touchdown of the evening.
The Rams answered with perhaps their most impressive drive of the season, going 88 yards on 15 plays to take the lead back. The drive finished with a four-yard touchdown run for Ryan Pellum, making it 10-6 Millikan with just over two minutes gone in the second quarter.
Angelo Miranda then added to Millikan’s advantage, ripping the ball away from a La Mirada receiver and returning the ball 32 yards to the end zone. That left the Rams with a 17-6 lead at the break.
A La Mirada fake punt early in the third quarter left the Rams with a short field when the defense stuffed the rushing attempt two yards shy of the first down marker. That set up a 23-yard Myles Jackson touchdown pass to Tacario Davis, who had team highs with four catches and 70 receiving yards. That gave Millikan its 23-6 lead, which would gradually dwindle over the rest of the half.
La Mirada immediately responded with a six-minute scoring drive, capped by a TD pass from Nehuel Garcia to Dillon Nichols. After a mishandled snap on a Millikan punt attempt gave La Mirada a short field, Garcia punched in a one-yard TD run to trim Millikan’s lead to just 3 points with 9:26 left on the clock.
Scott’s second field goal of the night gave the Rams a 26-20 edge, but with 7:08 to play, La Mirada leaned on its rushing attack to march the ball down the field for a go-ahead touchdown, leaving the Rams with too little time to mount a comeback.
The Matadores ran the ball seven consecutive plays on that game-winning drive, then hit on three consecutive pass plays including a 27-yard strike from Garcia to Xavier Hicks on 4th & 3 to keep their hopes alive. It then took just two runs from Lafferre to cap off the comeback.
As Millikan looks toward the start of league play, they’re hoping to get some key starters back healthy. The Rams were without a few starting linemen, including senior captain Luke Clapham, as well as wide receiver Matt Martinez and two starting linebackers. Even still, Pellum knew his team was in a position to win and let it slip away late.
“I think overall as a team we were better and played a more complete game, but I still think we need to produce more in the second half,” Pellum explained. “Obviously we have a lot of new guys playing different positions, so I think we’ll be okay. I’m confident with us going into league.”
Jackson finished with 145 passing yards for Millikan, but was a real difference maker with his legs. The sophomore rushed for 76 yards on seven carries to lead Millikan’s rushing efforts. He also spread the ball around well, hitting seven different receivers.
The Rams open their Moore League schedule next Friday with a trip to Jordan. Meanwhile, La Mirada will visit Foothill next week.