Berth in state semifinals on line in Milton-Union, Valley View rematch

When Milton-Union and Valley View met on the field in Germantown on Aug. 26, no one had this Friday night in mind. Now it’s all both teams and communities can think about.

A rematch in a regional final is a rare occurrence. But as the season progressed and both teams kept winning, the path to the Bulldogs (13-0) and Spartans (12-1) meeting again seemed more possible with each passing week. They will meet again at Piqua High School’s Alexander Stadium at 7 p.m. in the Division V, Region 20 final.

“Right now, we’re just happy that we’re still playing,” said Milton-Union coach Bret Pearce, who expects Bulldog fans to start tailgating two hours before kickoff. “It doesn’t matter to us if it’s someone we’ve played before or someone new, we’re excited about the opportunity to play in the regional final. It just so happens we’re playing a very good Valley View team.”

Friday night’s prize is a spot in the state semifinals at 7 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving against the winner of Ironton (13-0) and Canal Winchester Harvest Prep (13-0) at Cincinnati Princeton.

For Milton-Union, a state semifinal would be a first. The Bulldogs lost their two previous regional finals in 2006 and 2012 during Pearce’s first stint as head coach. The Spartans have played in seven state semifinals, the last time in 2002, and won state championships in 1994, 1996 and 1997.

While history suggests Valley View to be the favorite, that warm night in August does not. Milton-Union took advantage of four Valley View turnovers, built a 24-7 lead by the third quarter and won 24-14. The Spartans outgained the Bulldogs 304-262.

“We definitely feel confident we have a chance.” said first-year Valley View coach Matt King, who also feels strong community sport for his team. “It was kind of a wake up call. Honestly, you could say that it was one of the best things that could happen for our season. Because you realize all the areas that you need to improve, and you realize that what you were doing wasn’t good enough.”

Pearce says he trusts his team to be focused on this game and not relying on what happened in Week 2. He’s confident because he’s watched his team play teams at varying levels with the same intensity.

“There would be some groups of kids that I would be concerned with that, but not this one,” he said. “These kids have kept a really good attitude and a good work ethic the whole way through.”

The teams play similar styles. They can be explosive in the pass game, both have 1,000-yard rushers (Michael Elam for Milton-Union and Jacob Clark for Valley View) and they play good defense. Valley View throws the ball six more times a game, but Milton-Union receiver Blake Brumbaugh (23 total touchdowns) is the Southwest District Division V offensive player of the year.

“They definitely have quick-strike ability that we were able to deal with the first time around,” Pearce said. “But they can score on any play from from any position on the field. And their defense is very, very good. Gavin Degroat, their middle linebacker, is probably the best player we’ve played against this season.”

This is King’s first season as a head coach and the Spartans’ third head coach in three seasons. He spent the previous seven years on the staff coaching special teams and linebackers and serving as strength and conditioning coach. He credits consistency, a hard-working staff and talented players for bouncing back from 6-3 and 5-6 seasons, which are not at all the norm for the program.

“The kids have that confidence back, and they see the work that the coaches are putting in,” King said. “They’ve just bought in, and it’s been a fun year.”

Pearce has had fun, too.

“The fun is this group of kids,” he said. “They work hard, they want to be coached and they like each other. They’re likable kids on and off the field, and so that is making this very fun.”

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