Gritti’s Leadership Helps Millikin Achieve First Win

Dominique Bates, Writer

For the past few weeks, the Millikin football season has been hyped up. So far, the team has lived up to the hype. It is the beginning of a new era. This year, the Millikin Big Blue will coached by first year head coach Dan Gritti. Gritti has had success at other institutions in the past, most notably at Rhodes College where he led the football team to two consecutive 8-2 seasons and a championship. Gritti is hoping to have the same amount of success at Millikin, and so is the rest of the Big Blue family.

This season opened up with an away game at Greenville College. This game provided the perfect opportunity to set the tone for the season, and to see if Gritti could lead his team to success. Captains Nicco Stepina, Travis Goveia, Sean Nicholson, and Mykal Neal took the field for the coin toss.

Opening kickoff started with Greenville receiving the ball. On Greenville’s first possession, they drove down the field. On 4th down, they had an unsuccessful field goal attempt and Millikin got the ball after the turnover.

Millikin was forced to punt after their opening drive. This back and forth play continued until halfway through the first quarter. Millikin forced a fumble and defensive lineman Alex Lloyd recovered. Greenville’s quarterback was injured on the play and did not return to the game.

After the turnover, Millikin began a pursuit down the field. The Big Blue avoided trouble when quarterback Nicco Stepina recovered his own fumble. Just when it looked like Millikin was in danger of having to punt the ball again, they finally caught a break. Stepina found receiver Jordan Smith between two defenders, converting the third down. This third down conversion lead to Millikin’s first score of the season. On fourth and goal, Gritti’s aggressiveness showed through when Millikin tried to get a touchdown. Stepina found Cameron Mammen in the end zone. Pass interference was called and then declined. Kicker Chayce Volpert then drilled the extra point.
As the second quarter began, injuries and penalties plagued both teams. With the Greenville quarterback already gone, Millikin faced a similar fate when Mammen went down. On third down, Jordan Smith almost had a touchdown but defensive pass interference prevented him from scoring. The fifteen yard penalty put Millikin on the fifteen yard line in Greenville territory. On second down, running back Andre Colvin forced his way into the end zone on a 6 yd. rushing touchdown, followed by a Volpert extra point. Later in the quarter, Stepina and Colvin each added another TD to their stats. Stepina delivered a touchdown pass to David Jackson, and Colvin ran in another; though Volpert missed the extra points. These two scores put the Big Blue up 26-0 at the half.

As the second half rolled around, Millikin received the kickoff. Despite having the lead, Millikin offensive coordinator Brent Barnes’ offense did not let up. Less than a minute into the second half, freshman running back George Jimmerson took the ball 69 yards down the field into the end zone after a pass from Stepina. Stepina later found Jordan Smith for another touchdown pass. After Volpert’s kick, the Big Blue found themselves up 40-0. Stepina ended the day with four passing touchdowns. Colvin racked up two touchdowns, and Mammen, Smith, Jackson, and Jimmerson each found the end zone again.

Thanks to Gritti’s leadership, the Big Blue won their opening game. Coach Gritti was pleased with their first win, but he said they still have work to do.

Offensively, for the most part, he was satisfied. “I thought they spread the ball well on offense,” Gritti stated, “the offensive line kept Stepina up all game.” Coach Gritti also showed his blunt nature when he declared that “the defense stunk.” He is hoping the team will use their defensive troubles as motivation to do well against Rose-Hulman, who is explosive on offense. He stressed that in order for Millikin to find success next Saturday, the defense has to come ready to play. “Our defensive line needs to be more productive,” Gritti continued. “It is about the front 7. In order to have a good game, the front 7 needs to be on their A-game.”

Millikin will face Rose-Hulman on Saturday September 10.