The Bigger they are, the Harder they Fall


Photo courtesy of Millikin Athletics

The story of David vs Goliath is as old as time. And on Saturday, that story was brought to life.

The Millikin Football team faced their hardest test yet as they went head to head with one of the top teams in the CCIW.

Unranked Millikin battled for four quarters against #12 ranked Wheaton.

Wheaton controlled the game for most of the first half. They got on the board first, and had momentum going into the second half.

At the half, the Thunder led 21-7.

But a 12 play, five minute scoring drive led by junior quarterback Nicco Stepina, put the Big Blue right back in it. The 25 yard touchdown run by Stepina cut the score to 21-14.

The Thunder answered back with a field goal, making the score 24-14.

But turnovers helped keep the Big Blue at pace with Wheaton. A botched Wheaton snap led to a Millikin fumble recovery on the five yard line.

Stepina connected with his favorite target, sophomore Jordan Smith, on a one yard passing touchdown. Wheaton, now only led 24-21.

Although the offense played well, the defense came to play as well. They forced a Wheaton turnover on downs.

Once again, Stepina went to work, orchestrating an 80 yard touchdown drive. It was the freshman phenom, running back Jazontae Howard, who put the finishing touches on Stepina’s impressive drive. Howard ran 28 yards for the score. The Big Blue took their first lead of the game, leading 28-24.

Once again, the Thunder had an answer for the Big Blue. They drove down the field for a score. It only took Wheaton 14 plays to punch the ball into the end zone.

A dagger for the Big Blue. Wheaton led 31-28 with less than two minutes in the ballgame. Past Millikin teams would have thrown in the towel. But in this Dan Gritti era, giving up is not an option. It was time to fight. Harder than this Big Blue team had ever fought before.

Stepina led his teammates down the field. The junior quarterback was having a great night, but one mistake, and that success might not matter. As Millikin held the momentum, driving down the field, Stepina made that fateful mistake. Looking Smith down the sideline, Stepina fired the ball to his top receiver.  The catch was made, but it was a Wheaton defender who found the ball in his hands. An interception. Heartbreak for the Big Blue.

Not so fast! A glimmer of hope for the Millikin fan base. A Millikin player ran up to a defeated looking Smith, and pointed towards the line of scrimmage. Something caught Smith’s attention, and the rest of the crowd’s as well.

Laying in the field of green was a yellow object. A penalty flag.

Stepina had been knocked to the ground on the last pass play. Apparently too late. Roughing the passer. Automatic first down, and fifteen yards tacked on from the line of scrimmage.

Mistakes happen. But second chances aren’t as likely. But here it was. Stepina was given the biggest break of his Big Blue football career. The time for mistakes was over. No room for error. It was time to leave it all out on the field.

Stepina took his brothers down the field, leading the way a captain leads his army.

Stepina drove 83 yards down the field in ten plays. He made several completions to his freshman receivers, who played well all game. The biggest completion was to the veteran Smith. The 29 yard connection put the ball on Wheaton’s four yard line. First and goal. On the last play of the drive, it wasn’t Stepina’s arm that did the work. It was his legs. He went back to the running game. Stepina sprinted through the defensive line for the final score of the game.

The score led the Big Blue to a 35-31 win over the Wheaton Thunder, thus breaking the 16 game losing streak to the Thunder.

The Wheaton Thunder were bigger and stronger, but the Big Blue matched their physicality and proved to be the better team, showing that rankings don’t mean much. Anyone can win on any given Saturday. Sometimes it’s Goliath. But every once in awhile, it’s David.

After the game, Stepina, the Big Blue’s fearless leader, ran into the stands and several of his teammates followed. The crowd stood in astonishment of the insane finish, wondering what just happened.

“What did you just do?” some of Stepina’s family members and friends asked him.

Stepina didn’t have an answer, as he was shocked with his and his team’s performance as well.

He embraced his teammates, congratulating each of them. One of those players was sophomore safety Daniel Jackson.

“I don’t want to let you go bruh,” Jackson said. “I don’t bruh. Thank God bruh. Thank God bro. Oh my God. Oh my God. Thank you for keeping your composure.”

Stepina walked down the steps of the Frank M. Lindsay Field bleachers, and he joined the rest of his teammates who had just finished singing the school song with the Big Blue fans.

Victory, Big Blue! How sweet it is.

Stepina threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns.  He also rushed 15 times for 52 yards and another two scores.

By the way, he was also named CCIW player of the week. Rightfully so.

The Big Blue are now 4-1 on the season, and 2-1 in conference play. They will face their rival Augustana on Saturday, in an away matchup. Win or lose, the Big Blue have established themselves and made a statement that they are no longer a team that can be merely overlooked.

Millikin football is back.