There are many ways to check the pulse of a high school football program, and the best way to do that for Millikan is to note that this year the Rams beat Lakewood and Wilson in the same season for only the sixth time in school history.
Millikan (6-4, 5-1) completed the feat with a 35-12 victory over Wilson (1-8, 1-5) at DeHaven Stadium on Friday night in the regular season finale.
“You want to win this side of town,” Millikan coach Romeo Pellum said. “We’re five minutes from Lakewood and 10 minutes from Wilson. These games are huge. When you’re beating up on those guys… for the kids coming out of middle school we’re more attractive to them rather than the other way around.”
The Rams finished second in the Moore League and now await their CIF Southern Section Playoff fate as the postseason brackets are scheduled to be released on Sunday.
“This season was competitive but we still figured it out and created a bond,” Millikan senior receiver Tacario Davis said. “We’re not just playing for the Moore League, we’re trying to win a CIF championship.”
After a sloppy first half ended with Millikan holding a 14-12 lead, the Rams outscored Wilson 21-0 in the second half.
“We knew (Wilson) isn’t better than us and we played at their level,” Davis said. “In the second half we played at our level.”
Davis had two touchdown receptions from Millikan quarterback Myles Jackson who finished the night with 224 yards passing and three touchdowns. He also threw a season-high three interceptions in a game that saw eight combined turnovers.
The first turnover of the game came off a tipped pass from Jackson that fell into the hands of Wilson defensive back Dominique Carter. Two plays later, Wilson quarterback Xander McLaurin’s 14-yard touchdown run on the last play of the first quarter gave the visitors a 6-0 lead. Millikan star Ryan Pellum and Wilson receiver Erik Perales were ejected after the play for fighting
The second turnover of the night was also an interception by Millikan junior Angelo Miranda. He is a reliable wide receiver who has been learning to play defensive back this season. This was only his seventh game in the defensive backfield.
“I’ve been working hard at safety and I’ve got veterans like (Davis) and (Jayden Hunt) to help me out,” Miranda said. “They tell me what to do, how to line up and how to look at the late seams like Wilson was running tonight.”
Miranda’s interception set up Millikan to take the lead for good on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Davis. After Wilson missed a field goal on the ensuing drive, Jackson found running back Ajae Gravelly for a 13-yard touchdown and a 14-6 lead with 1:22 left until halftime.
Again Wilson answered with an impressive drive that was capped with a McLaurin 31-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Andrew Bond.
After the teams traded more turnovers to start the second half, Miranda’s 20-yard touchdown run gave Millikan all the momentum and a 21-12 lead. The Rams scored on its next two drives with touchdowns from Gravelly and Davis to seal the victory.
Davis said the win meant even more because it came on Senior Night.
“I remembered two years ago seeing the (seniors) walk like that and now it’s my turn,” Davis said. “It felt good to get the win and play with my brothers.”
The game was a bit choppy due to almost 300 yards of penalty yardage, and the majority of that was called against Wilson. However, the Bruins were still in the game until the end of the third quarter.
“They’re doing everything possible to try and win but the big mistakes have been kind of the theme this year,” Wilson coach Scott Meyer said. “But I’m super proud of their effort and how they battled.”
Wilson only had one win this season but were competitive and close to a win in most of its league games.
“We feel like we should’ve been 4-1 coming into this game,” Meyer said. “The Jordan game we missed a game-winning field goal. The Lakewood game we had a chance to go up 26-7 before a tipped interception. Even the Compton game we were going in for a score but they strip a ball and go the other way so that’s a 14-point swing. We have to continue to teach how to close those out and win those games.”
Millikan and Pellum know that the postseason will also likely be a string of close games.
“We’ve got to think about the Poly and Santa Ana games and those tough games we played from here on out because it’s not going to be the Moore League schools (in the playoffs) that we know we can beat,” Pellum said. “We just have to make sure we play our game and play disciplined football.”
The CIF Southern Section playoff pairings are scheduled to be released at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
QB Myles Jackson: 16/26, 224 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
RB Ajae Gravelly: 16 carries, 93 yards, 2 TD
WR Tacario Davis: 5 receptions, 88 yards, 2 TD
DB Kyle Parker: 2 INT
QB Xander McLaurin: 7/16, 120 yards, TD, 3 INT (89 yards rushing, TD)
RB Johnell Gray: 11 carries, 60 yards
WR Andrew Bond: 2 receptions, 45 yards, TD
DB Dominque Carter: 2 INT