It’s been an eventful 12 months for Millikan Football, but the Rams find themselves in a similar position to where they were a year ago. As the CIF-SS playoffs are set to begin, the Rams face a long road trip to a tough environment as they prepare to face a successful program in the opening round of the Division 4 playoffs.
The Rams will make the 50-mile trek to the Santa Clarita Valley where they’ll face the Saugus Centurions at 7 p.m. Friday at the College of the Canyons.
Millikan head coach Romeo Pellum is making sure his team is prepared for all the challenges that come with a road playoff game, and hopes the experience from last season’s first-round loss at top-seed Camarillo has his team prepared for this year’s postseason.
“I just flat out told them, you don’t want that feeling that you had last year,” said Pellum. “You don’t want to see all the teams around us playing, and we’re sitting at home. I don’t want to feel that … A lot of these kids played in that game, and that was a very, very long ride home, especially for those seniors, a lot of crying. And you don’t want to do that.”
One of those players was QB Myles Jackson, who has put together a prolific junior season for the Rams. He says the feeling of last year’s game has stayed with him and his teammates.
“Last year we didn’t really leave it all out on the field, I feel like we could have won that game for sure,” Jackson admitted. “Just that feeling kind of sticks with you, especially the returning guys who know what it felt like being there. I feel like this will be a similar game experience. We’re making a far mission, we’re playing a good team with a similar play style to Camarillo. So I feel like this would be a really good matchup for us and if we pull together we can get it done.”
Pellum said that Saugus reminds him of that Camarillo team from last year, as well as the St. Francis team that Millikan beat 54-28 earlier this season. The Centurions are 8-2, with losses coming against 10-0 West Ranch and 8-2 Camarillo. Saugus is the No. 2 team out of the Foothill League, finishing on a four-game winning streak.
In their last game of the season, they pulled away from Golden Valley late for a 31-13 win, getting a productive night from senior QB TJ Cataldi, who was 21/25 for 237 yards.
Teams have more often found success running the ball against Millikan’s defense, but that could be tricky for Saugus whether or not leading rusher Jack Viger is available. After playing in the first 6 games of the season, Viger missed a month and played only sparingly against Golden Valley. If he’s unavailable, it would hamper Saugus in all three phases since he plays both ways and is also the team’s punter. Viger was the Foothill League Player of the Year as a linebacker and running back last season.
This past week, the Saugus and greater Santa Clarita community has once again been engaged in heated discourse regarding the flying of the “Thin Blue Line” flag by Saugus players on the field. The district superintendent and Saugus’ head coach, Jason Bornn, announced during the season that the team would refrain from flying the flag at football games, but it returned last Friday during the team’s regular-season finale. It was the hot topic of discussion during Wednesday’s Hart Unified school board meeting, and remains a divisive issue in the community. There was no official word of any punishment pertaining to the flag’s appearance last Friday, but it has certainly become a subplot to the playoff opener.
On the field, senior defensive end Dario Sandoval filled in for a couple of TD runs in Vigor’s stead, and he’ll be a key player for Saugus’ stop unit. Sandoval and fellow senior Deohn Turner both have good size and have been effective pass rushers, combining for 17 sacks and 28 hurries this year.
That means protecting Jackson will be a key for the Millikan offense, which could be extremely deadly if he’s got time to survey the field. The Rams have a potent receiving corps–with four experienced, scholarship players atop the depth chart–but that unit has only been on the field at the same time for about a game and a half this season. The opportunity to have Jordan Anderson, Matt Martinez, Angelo Miranda, and reigning Moore League Player of the Year Ryan Pellum all healthy and running routes together has Jackson excited for Friday night.
“It's awesome. It's just good to have the opportunity to all be together and to be in the playoffs,” Jackson said. “I'm just excited to get all the guys together. To get back to that group that feels normal in a way, even though it's been kind of foggy this season with the receiving corps. I think we have the best receiving corps in the area, so I put it against any defense.”
As head coach, Pellum’s mindset is to put up points relentlessly and put pressure on Saugus to keep pace. The Rams have the advantage in explosiveness and athleticism, so they’ll look to score quickly and turn the game into a track meet.
“I think we have to put points on the board every time we have a ball. We can’t leave any empty possessions out there,” Pellum said. “We have to be able to win in turnovers, that's huge for us, and then also win the special teams battle … But I really think it's about us. If we do what we're supposed to do, I think we can beat anyone, I don't care who we're playing. But again, it's about us.”
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