High school football: Unbeaten Milton-Union has big goals

When the 18 Milton-Union seniors were juniors, they beat Valley View and felt good about themselves. A week later they lost to Oakwood by eight points.

“We lost focus after we beat Valley View because we were all hyped up,” quarterback Nathan Morter said.

The Bulldogs beat Valley View again this season, and the 18 seniors took a more mature approach to the Oakwood game and won 45-13.

“We stayed focused and we were ready to go against Oakwood,” Morter said. “After that win, we all realized what we could be. We just have to stay focused, stay ready, stay alert, be communicating and all that good stuff.”

Good stuff, indeed.

The Bulldogs are 4-0, ranked No. 7 in the state in Division V and are No. 2 in the Region 20 playoff points.

“We want state, that’s what we want,” Morter said. “Milton’s never won state so that’s our goal. Obviously, first we have to get to regionals and go 1-0 every week.”

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The Bulldogs, who host Troy Christian in a Three Rivers Conference game Friday, are not one-dimensional. Playmakers and an experienced offensive line produced more than 40 points in three of the first four games. A lot of the same players start on defense and have been stingy with yards and points.

“We have a group of 18 seniors who just decided they were going to be good, and they were going to work for it,” said head coach Bret Pearce.

Long a disciple of the run-oriented wing-T offense, Pearce added some spread concepts to take advantage of his players’ talents. The Bulldogs will run out of a shotgun formation and throw the ball more than they used to. Morter leads the TRC with 474 passing yards and wide receiver Blake Brumbaugh is second in receiving yards with 256.

Michael Elam and Jordan Foose lead the ground game with more than 200 yards apiece, but Brumbaugh is right behind them with 237 yards and five touchdowns on only 17 carries.

“Blake is a dynamic playmaker, and with some of the things we do, he is the best player,” Pearce said.

The best-player question turns Pearce quickly to the line of scrimmage: “I‘ve got two linemen who are lights out.”

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Ethan Lane is a 6-foot-3, 275-pound guard who could be headed to Ball State. Jake Brown is a first-team all-state defensive lineman. And in the secondary is 6-4 Cooper Brown, also the team’s second-leading receiver.

“We have a lot of really good kids, and it’s one of the reasons we’re so excited,” Pearce said. “Sometimes you have one great kid and it makes your team good. And we feel like we have more than one right now.”

Pearce previously built the program into a playoff regular during a 13-year run that ended in 2012 when he stepped down because his kids were in high school. After two years off, he returned as offensive coordinator under Mark Lane for three years. When Lane became athletic director in 2018, Pearce became head coach.

The Bulldogs made their first playoff appearance in 2002 and have made 11 total. Six came under Pearce’s first watch and three since his return. Since 2018 the Bulldogs are 35-12 and won the inaugural Three Rivers Conference championship last year. They are the team to beat again.

“It does feel like we have a team right now that hopefully we can do some great things with,” Pearce said. “We don’t feel like we better win now because things are going to be bad in the future. That’s not the feeling. But we do feel like we have a team right now that we can win with.”

When Pearce began at Milton-Union in 2000, he said the program cycled between bad and average years. During those first 13 years he saw the cycle upgrade to average and good years, peaking with regional final appearances in 2006 and 2012.

“Hopefully we’re on the track to cycle between great years and good years,” he said. “You’re always going to cycle, especially in a small school. But what we want is our ups to be as high as we can get them and our lows to also be pretty high.”

A big help is that the Bulldogs are finally back in Division V after several years as one of the two or three smallest schools in Division IV. The Bulldogs would have dropped back before this year if not for the COVID interruption.

“We don’t feel like we dropped down as much as they finally put us where we’re supposed to be,” Pearce said.

Last season ended with a one-point loss to Eaton in the second round of the playoffs, so the Bulldogs aren’t resting on the Valley View and Oakwood wins. Not if they want to be great.

“They don’t want to take anybody lightly, they don’t want to feel overconfident, they want to keep getting better,” Pearce said. “So that when we meet up with with a team like Eaton again in the playoffs, maybe we can be the one that’s one point better.”

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