DAGSBORO — Despite its back being to the wall since beginning conference play, the Indian River football team hadn’t given up its playoff hopes yet.
Trailing visiting Milford late in Friday night’s Henlopen South showdown, the Indians weren’t about to give up then either.
Instead IR rallied for a 22-18 win over the Buccaneers (1-1 South, 4-2 overall), moved to 3-0 in conference play and evened its overall record at 3-3.
“I preached to the kids the first three games we were going to take our bumps, but that’s why we play the better teams because we’re going to get better and in the fourth quarter be able to out-muscle guys because we had to fight in those tough games,” said first-year IR coach Phil Townsend, whose team won for the third straight weekend. “Our guys were in shape and ready to play 48 minutes of football.”
Twice in the final six minutes versus Milford, Indians junior George Martin rushed for go-ahead touchdowns. It was his second rushing score, which came on the heels of his completing a 31-yard halfback pass to senior Deshawn Aiken that put IR inside the Bucs’ 10, that proved to be the game-winner.
Stymied by the Milford defense on first-and-goal from the six with about a minute left to play, IR handed the ball to Martin, who could have walked into the end zone untouched.
“In the fourth quarter we were wearing them down,” Martin said. “We pride ourselves on how hard we work and at the end I think that showed.
“That was an exciting play,” Martin added about the pass he threw to Aiken that setup the winning run. “My heart was beating hard in the huddle. Both (throwing the pass and running from inside the 10) are pretty nerve-racking.”
IR’s nerves were a bit on edge following Martin’s final TD run as well when Milford sophomore David Bowman took the ensuing kickoff 30 yards to the Indians’ 47 with 55 seconds remaining on the clock. The Indians, who had allowed Bowman to break loose for a 39-yard touchdown run that gave the Buccaneers an 18-15 lead with 4:08 to play, however, held the sophomore star to just one yard on two carries and then forced a pair of incompletions to get the ball back and run out the clock.
A weird first half during which Indian River ran 45 plays and Milford less than 10 ended with IR leading 7-6.
The Indians took the opening drive 73 yards on 12 plays, the last of which was a five-yard Gunnar Moldrik touchdown run on fourth down, for a quick 7-0 lead.
With good starting field position following freshman Rahshawn Price’s kickoff return that would have been a touchdown if not for a Milford block in the back penalty inside the IR 20, the Bucs looked poised to get on the board. Instead the typically sure-handed Bowman fumbled the ball and Aiken was there to recover it at his own 17.
Another methodical IR drive followed and the Indians reached the Milford 12 before attempting a field goal that was blocked and bounced high right into senior Son Martinez’s hands, who took it 91 yards to the house and made the score 7-6.
With the ball to start the third quarter, Milford needed just 1:50 to take its first lead of the game, going 57 yards on five plays, the last of which was a 15-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback William Kimmel. Neither team did much after the Kimmel TD until IR retook the lead 15-12 on a three-yard Martin run combined with a two-point conversion midway through the final quarter.
Momentum seemingly on its side after IR’s special teams forced Milford to begin its next drive at its own 10, the Bucs changed things when Bowman broke off a 50 yard run. Two plays later the sophomore gave Milford its final lead of the night, 18-15, with his long touchdown run that came with just more than four minutes to play.