SWBL Buckeye football: New Milton-Union coach a blast from the past

Bret Pearce returns to Milton-Union High School for a second term as the Bulldogs’ head football coach this season. That sets him apart from a continuing trend of coaches leaving the profession.

Pearce initially guided Milton-Union football from 2000-12 and didn’t stay away for long. He was an assistant under Mark Lane the last three seasons and took over again when Lane limited his duty to athletic director.

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It’s the fifth head coach switch in the 14-team Southwestern Buckeye League since 2016. That’s almost on pace with the 20-team Greater Western Ohio Conference, which has had nine head coach changes in the same span.

“It was nice to step away and recharge,” said Pearce, a Mansfield native. “I come back hopefully with a little bit of growth.”

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Other new SWBL head coaches this season are at Monroe (Barak Faulk) and Preble Shawnee (Dave Maddox). Two years ago, Bellbrook (Jeff Jenkins) and Valley View (Bob Skidmore) landed new coaches.

The Bulldogs had a streak of two straight playoff seasons snapped in 2017. Pearce guided all six other Milton teams that advanced.

“The program means something to this community and to these kids,” he said. “That’s really the reason that we coach. And, I just missed being called coach.”

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The following are five things to know about SWBL Buckeye Division football.

Teams/coaches: Carlisle (7-3, 4-2; D-V, Region 20), Mike Brown (4th season); Dixie (5-5, 3-3; D-VI, Region 24); Dave Worley (4th season); Middletown Madison (11-3, 6-0; D-V, Region 20), Steve Poff (5th season); Milton-Union (4-6, 3-3; D-V, Region 18), Bret Pearce (13th season, 2nd term); Northridge (1-9, 1-5; D-IV, Region 16), Bob Smith (16th season); Preble Shawnee (7-3, 3-3; D-V, Region 20), Dave Maddox (1st season); Waynesville (1-9, 1-5; D-V, Region 20), Scott Jordan (3rd season).

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What to know: Madison recovered from a 1-2 start last season and advanced to the D-V state semifinals, losing to Wheelersburg. The Mohawks, loaded with many key returners, appear destined for another great season. Senior running back Cameron Svarda super charged the Wing-T offense and was the SWBL Buckeye player of the year. Senior lineman Cole Pelgren was the SWBL Buckeye defensive player of the year.

It was the first time Madison had qualified for the postseason and the deepest playoff run for any of the current Buckeye teams.

“Obviously, expectations are high, higher than they’ve probably ever been,” said Madison coach Steve Poff.

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• Tagged with the cruelest fate, Carlisle finished ninth and one spot out of qualifying for the postseason last year. That snapped a streak of two straight playoff teams. Bad timing cost Carlisle as much as anything; beaten foes Miami Trace, Waynesville and Northridge all were 1-9 and provided few second-level computer points.

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• Bob Smith of Northridge is the senior coach of the Buckeye Division. He began his Polar Bears career when former coach Butch McPherson was in the midst of a hall of fame run. This is Smith’s 36th season with the team.

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• Milton-Union was the only SWBL team that was reassigned a new region. The Bulldogs remain in D-V, but switch from Region 20 to Region 18.

Key returning offensive players:

• Anthony Carmichael, sr., QB, Waynesville: 1,784 yards passing, 16 TDs.

• Robbie Grove, sr., RB, Milton-Union: 813 yards rushing, 8 TDs.

• Twon Hines, sr., RB, Northridge: 1,100 yards rushing (7 games), 13 TDs.

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• Bryce Singleton, so., TE, Preble Shawnee: 12 catches, 122 yards (10.2), 2 TDs.

• Cameron Svarda, sr., RB, Madison: 1,940 yards rushing, 26 TDs, All-SWBL Buckeye offensive player of year.

• Chandler Workman, sr., OL, Carlisle: second team All-SWBL Buckeye.

Key returning defensive players:

• Dane Flatter, sr., LB, Carlisle: Honorable mention All-SWBL Buckeye.

• Connor Gostomsky, sr., LB, Milton-Union.

• Ben Hobbs, jr., DL, Preble Shawnee: 6 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery.

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• Jerron Lander, jr., LB, Northridge: 88 tackles, 5 sacks.

• Matt Moore, jr., DL, Waynesville: second team All-SWBL Buckeye.

• Cole Pelgen, sr., DL, Madison: 18 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 INT, All-SWBL Buckeye defensive player of year.

Week 1 games: All at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24.

• Bethel-Tate at Waynesville.

• Carlisle at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy.

• Miami East at Milton-Union.

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• Middletown Madison at Franklin.

• Northridge at Bethel.

• Talawanda at Preble Shawnee.

• Twin Valley South at Dixie.

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Bonus fun facts: With 14 teams (two divisions), the SWBL will become the area's largest affiliation following the breakup of the GWOC after this season.

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The SWBL began in 1944 with Milton-Union as the only remaining charter member. However, like Pearce, this is the Bulldogs’ second term after leaving from 1981-2001.

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