Millikin Looks to Rebound


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     After knocking off 13th-ranked Wheaton last season, the Big Blue were hoping for a repeat performance. But Wheaton must have had the date circled on their calendar, because the Thunder made sure the result was different. Much different.

     This year, 22nd-ranked Wheaton, was ready for Millikin. The Thunder had just come off of a loss against Wesleyan, and they were not about to lose their second-straight game. That’s what happened last year, and it all but ruined their season. Not again.

     From the opening kickoff, to the last whistle, Wheaton controlled the competition. After the first half, the Thunder led 42-6. They also scored three times in each of the first two quarters of play.

     Millikin was only able to put up six points on the board, and the game finished with a final score of 63-6. Wheaton finished with 601 yards in total offense, while the Big Blue finished with 305.

     The problem seems simple. Wheaton was able to get into the end zone and do whatever they wanted on offense, while Millikin couldn’t stop the Thunder from reaching the end zone. And Millikin couldn’t find its’ way into the end zone.

     But the problem is more significant. The fact of the matter is that Millikin didn’t come ready to play, and the Thunder came out with a fire under their butts.

     “We weren’t ready to play,” Gritti said. “We played awful. We got hit in the mouth and didn’t respond.”

     Head coach Dan Gritti likened it to a group of Vikings coming to pillage a town of villagers.

     “It’s like they were the Vikings who came to rage and pillage the town, and we came for a community festival or picnic,” Gritti said.

     That may seem a bit extreme. But let’s be frank here. Looking at Coach Gritti’s rap sheet, he has not had a game where he was dominated as badly as Wheaton. This may in fact be the worst game, that he coached in.

     What made this loss such a big pill to swallow, was the fact that it didn’t come in the first year of rebuilding Millikin’s football team. It came in the third year of Gritti’s three-year process. A year where the team is supposed to be at the level they need to be at. And as of now, the Big Blue are not even close.

     “The reason it was probably the worst game I have ever coached in, was that it wasn’t like I was rebuilding at this point,” Gritti said. “It wasn’t year one. Year one against Elmhurst, was a horrible, horrific football game. But it was year one. This is year three. We should be past these things.”

     The biggest problem that has plagued the Big Blue through the first two games of the season, reared its’ ugly head once again. Lack of focus.

     Sure, they got outmatched physically, but mentally, it was far greater.

     “All three phases (offense, defense, and special teams)  we got out physicaled, out mentaled, everything. There was not an aspect that we were good at. We got physically abused. And mentally, we were not in position to do things correctly.”

     Coach Gritti had said that in order for the team to be successful, they would have to be focused for four whole quarters. Obviously, considering the score, that didn’t happen.

     To be fair, it is hard to keep a team focused when it gets down 35 points.

     There’s not much that can be said about the Wheaton game. The Thunder won significantly. And Millikin struggled. Now, the focus is on the next week, and the rest of the season.

     So, what is the next step? Well, for Gritti, it is simple. The team has to focus, and stop relying on athleticism to win the game. If that means playing less of the older, athletic guys and playing more of the younger, less athletic guys who will get the job done, then Gritti is prepared to do so.

     Another problem was dropped balls. Through three games, receivers have struggled with catching the football. There were a few significant incompletions, that played a role in Millikin being down early. So, one would assume that practice will focus on cleaning that up, by working on some of those receiver drills.

     Above all, it is about playing to the potential the team is capable of.

     “Our potential is still greater than losing 60-something to six, Gritti said”

     Millikin got beat 63-6.  Whoopdeedoo. It happens. Teams lose. And teams lose bad. It is now about what you do to make sure that never happens again. It is about getting back up after you have been knocked down.

     The great Vince Lombardi said it best.

     “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up,” Lombardi said.

     So, don’t worry Big Blue fans. There is still a lot of football to be played this season.

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