CUMMING, Ga. — The mantra for Milton this season has been “own the red zone.” Entering their region opening game against West Forsyth, Milton had allowed just five touchdowns on 12 trips by opponents inside their 20. Friday night, they added another scoreless trip as the Eagles stopped a late West Forsyth drive within the one-yard line to open Region 5-AAAAAAA play with a win.
Milton led 17-14 midway through the fourth quarter after a Hayden Hairston field goal. West Forsyth had multiple sustained drives throughout the game, and needed a score to go ahead late or potentially force overtime. The Wolverines drove into the red zone.
With the game on the line, West lined up for a 4th-and-goal from the 3-yard line with under three minutes remaining. Quarterback Zachary Burns took the shotgun snap and rolled to his right, hoping to draw Milton’s defenders before passing back to his left to a waiting Garrett Woodall.
Woodall brought in the reception but had to reach low for the pass. He brought in the reception but fell to the turf in doing so. He had come up mere inches short, turning the ball over on downs.
In the shadow of their own end zone, Milton rushed for a first down and ran out the clock.
It was a win on the back of “owning” the red zone.
“We used every bit of field but one inch,” Milton head coach Adam Clack said.
“They threw the kitchen sink at us,” he said. “From different sets, and option attack that came out of nowhere and wildcat packages. When you get down in the red zone you see that stuff come out. But we kept making them play another down.”
Clack said the win wasn’t pretty. Milton’s offense had multiple three and outs in a game where they only had seven possessions. The Eagles’ defense also struggled to get off the field. But he said he was still pleased with the fight and resilience his team showed in the win.
“Sometimes it’s not about winning pretty,” he said. “It’s about being tough enough to stick it out for 48 minutes.”
Not only did his players endure the challenges of the game, Clack and some of his coaching staff had to deal with outside pressure.
Clack spent the previous three seasons as head coach at West before leaving for Milton this spring along with a few assistant coaches. That decision left a bad taste in the mouths of some of West’s faithful, who took to social media with posts like “Cahill>Clack,” Shawn Cahill being West’s new head coach.
“I really don’t like those distractions and I tried my best to minimize players exposure to that,” Clack said. “Our guys handled it really well. It was a tough week for me and some of our coaches and we’re glad to have it behind us.”
And there is no better way to put it behind than with a win. Milton improved to 5-1 overall but faces a huge test in hosting South Forsyth (6-0, 1-0) this week.
“I’m very familiar with (South head coach) Jeff Arnette and the great job he and his staff do,” Clack said. “You can say what you want about Gwinnett and South Georgia, but I think there is no better talent of coaching in the state than in our area. We know we’re going to face a team that is very disciplined, give tremendous effort and make you play their game.”
“We have to be ready to stand toe-to-toe with a great puncher,” he said.