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Football Lakewood Millikan

PREVIEW: Lakewood vs. Millikan, Football

The562’s coverage of football in 2023-24 is sponsored in part by the MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center Foundation and Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Foundation.

The562’s coverage of Millikan athletics in the 2023-24 school year is sponsored by Curtis Boyer.

The562’s coverage of Lakewood Athletics is sponsored by J.P. Crawford, Class of 2013.

The Hamilton Trophy will be on the line on Friday night at DeHaven Stadium, as the latest chapter of the fierce rivalry between Millikan and Lakewood kicks off at 7 p.m.

Both teams appear headed in the right direction with positive showings the last few weeks, and are on a collision course with second place in the Moore League up for grabs.

Millikan (4-3, 2-1) is playing its best football of the season, and perhaps the best football of the Romeo Pellum era. The Rams nearly pulled off an impressive win over Long Beach Poly last Friday, suffering a 26-23 overtime loss to the Jackrabbits. Even in defeat, it was a promising showing for a Millikan program that’s moved up in CIF division each year and appears to be hitting a new gear this season, reaching as high as No. 27 in the CalPreps rankings.

Head coach Romeo Pellum isn’t yet satisfied with where his team is at, but does believe this year’s defense is the best he’s had at Millikan. They’ve got seniors at every level who are playing well, which led to four takeaways last week against Poly, including a pick-six from two-way standout Loyall Mouzon.

“I think we can get better on the offensive side of the ball,” Pellum said. “I’m used to scoring a lot of points, so there’s some things we need to clean up … The defense is clicking at the right time right now and I think they’re gonna continue to get better. They take it personal. Last week, it was 48 rushing yards in the first half. That’s never been the case at Millikan while I’ve been here. We’ve been known for putting up points but not being able to stop the run, but we’ve kind of changed the narrative. These guys are doing a great job.”

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On the other side, Lakewood (3-4, 2-1) had a solid first-half showing against Poly to open league play, before earning wins over Cabrillo and at Jordan last Friday. The Lancers had some offensive struggles in the preseason, but have found their identity as the year has gone on with sophomore QB Kade Casillas running the show. Casillas has 13 TD passes this season, with more than half of them going to senior wideout JT DaCoud, who has become one of the league’s best receivers.

“He’s a warrior,” said Lakewood coach Justin Utupo of DaCoud. “He’s got seven touchdowns in seven games, but he’s out here practicing like he doesn’t have any. He’s hungry and humble.”

Millikan has won two in a row over Lakewood, including a 52-20 victory last season. Coach Pellum called this week a “must win” game for his team, but again the focus is internal. His message to the Rams is to continue worrying about what they are doing, and not to get too preoccupied with the opponent or the rivalry. That approach has worked so far in tough road games against Jordan and Poly the last two weeks.

“Justin’s doing a hell of a job over there,” said Pellum of his counterpart, who was also his predecessor at Millikan. “It was 13-6 Poly at halftime, and they’re in all their games that they’ve played, they’re right there. Again, it’s not about them and what fits they give us, it’s about us, and making sure that we’re prepared and we’re doing our assignments. Who cares what Lakewood is doing or whoever we’re playing? What are we doing to make sure that we’re ready to go? And that’s the big focus for us.”

Utupo said his team has had a great week of practice and is viewing Friday night’s game a little differently than in years past. While they’re certainly fired up for the big game, he’s hoping to see a more focused approach to the game with less emotional volatility that often accompanies rivalry games.

“We talked all week about being able to control our emotions,” Utupo said. “This has been our best week of preparation. In the past our guys would be super fired up with talks of the rivalry, But this time it’s like a business trip to them … As a player this was a huge game for me and my teammates. During my time at Lakewood we never lost to Millikan. During my short stint at Millikan we didn’t lose the Hamilton Trophy, so it’s been like a funky journey for me being on both sides of this thing. This is a game I always remember after every season.”

Both teams will have playmakers all over the field, and this projects to be one of the most compelling games remaining on the Moore League schedule. The student section at Millikan will surely be at full force for this one, making it a difficult environment for the visiting Lancers.

“Everybody is confident and attacking the week. We’re trying to get this Hamilton Trophy back,” said Lakewood offensive tackle and senior captain Jay Tauala-Harris. “Our team responds very well to the noise. I don’t think we’re going to back down. I think this team is going to answer the call.”

Tyler Hendrickson
Tyler Hendrickson was born and raised in Long Beach, and started covering sports in his hometown in 2010. After five years as a sportswriter, Tyler joined the athletic department at Long Beach State University in 2015. He spent more than four years in the athletic communications department, working primarily with the Dirtbags baseball program. Tyler also co-authored of The History of Long Beach Poly: Scholars & Champions.