Second Half Surge

After dominating Greenville 76-3 in a one-sided ball game in the first week of the 2017 football season, the Big Blue looked to continue their success against the 23rd ranked Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Leading up to the Week 2 matchup, one question began to circulate. Is this team for real?

The Big Blue had an answer.

The game didn’t start off well for the Big Blue. The offense couldn’t get anything going and found themselves behind early. However, the defense made up for the lack of offensive efficiency by holding the offensive powerhouse Rose Hulman team to only seven points in the first half.

At the half, the Big Blue trailed 7-0.

However, a second half surge led Millikin to victory.

After trailing by 10 points, Big Blue quarterback Nicco Stepina put Millikin on the board with a 16 yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Colton Kelsey. An extra point from senior kicker Ben Spelman made the score 10-7, with Millikin only trailing by three.

Rose Hulman tacked on a field goal to make the score 13-7.

Stepina hooked up with sophomore receiver Gerald Perry for an 80 yard touchdown pass. Spelman’s extra point made it 14-13.

Then a rushing touchdown by junior Deonte Robinson pushed the score to 20-13. Another Spelman extra point put the Big Blue ahead, with a score of 21-13.

Rose Hulman battled back and scored a touchdown, as if to say they were not giving up yet. Fortunately for the Blue, the two point conversion attempt failed, leaving Millikin with a two point lead.

The Big Blue answered the touchdown with one of their own. On third down and seven yards, Stepina once again found Perry for the score.This time on a 93 yard pass.

Rose-Hulman fought back and added a late touchdown to make the score 28-26. Rose-Hulman then executed the perfect onside kick, and the Engineers were able to recover the ball, putting the Big Blue in a tough position. But Coach Gritti didn’t see it this way. He thought it made the game more interesting.

“Our guys’ confidence never wavered,” Gritti said. “The sideline was resolute in our belief that we were going to win the game. The onside kick just made it more interesting”.

On the next drive, the Big Blue defense held, thus giving Millikin the win, 28-26.

Although the offense had a great showing, the defense was impressive as well. The last defensive stand was huge. But perhaps one of the biggest plays came off a Daniel Jackson forced fumble late in the fourth. It was at that moment the Big Blue knew they would prevail.

“Daniel’s strip was a key moment not just because it changed momentum but because it occurred in scoring territory,” Gritti said. “He literally grabbed the ball out of the receiver’s arms.  Most of the team knew at that moment that we were not going to be denied.”

So, is this team for real?

You will have to make that decision for yourself. Some are surprised by the Big Blue’s success so far.

But not Gritti and his team.

“It’s always good to get a win over a very good, playoff caliber football team,” Gritti said. “That being said, 2-0 is where we expected to be so for us it’s just being on course.”

Stepina finished the night 13-32, passing for 362 yards and three touchdowns. Perry had six catches for 207 yards and two scores. Perry’s performance was enough to secure the third most receiving yards in a game in Millikin history.

The defense was led by Jackson, who had 13 tackles followed by sophomore defensive back Lashon Johnson with nine. Sophomore linebacker Matt Brown had seven stops with two tackles for a loss.

The Big Blue will have the bye this week, and then will resume play against thirteenth ranked North Central College on September 23rd at Frank M. Lindsay Field for a 1:00 game.