SOUTH BURLINGTON — Inspiring effort was agonizingly close enough for Milton last Friday afternoon against a Rice team among the best in the state, but the Green Knights kept the visitors from a result with a goal midway through the final overtime period to secure a 2-1 win.
The winning header came on Rice’s 15th corner kick of a game in which the hosts outshot Milton 18-4. Milton’s one true threat on goal was converted: a penalty kick earned and taken by Colby Gay in the second half.
But despite Rice’s dominance in all aspects of the game Friday, the Yellowjackets (4-5-1) fought tooth and nail to keep Rice (6-2) out of the net for more than an hour — eventually coming up just five minutes shy of a well deserved draw.
“After giving up a quick goal, I thought it was a gutsy effort to get that one in the second half, and we just got unlucky on that corner,” Milton coach Glenn Button said.
“I thought it was a gritty effort,” he continued. “Devon Jackson was phenomenal in goal for us. He made some key saves, and I thought we defended pretty well.”
Faced with a constant onslaught, Jackson was spectacular in his 16-save effort for Milton. Though he received help from the woodwork on multiple occasions Friday, Jackson made enough spectacular saves to leave Rice legitimately wondering whether it would ever get past him again after taking a 1-0 lead in the opening five minutes.
Jackson kept the Milton deficit to one on a seemingly impossible-to-stop one-timer in the second minute of the second half. He continued to stop all he possibly could, and received good fortune on those he couldn’t. Rice hit the post midway through the second, then had a goal called back for offsides 12 minutes later. With seven minutes to go in regulation and the score knotted at one, he watched helplessly as Milton missed giving up its own goal by inches. Off the ensuing corner, Rice hit the crossbar.
With seven minutes to go in the first overtime, all in attendance — beginning with Rice’s coaching staff — were sure the gods were on Milton’s side when Jackson managed to reach back to his left while running to his right to tip a perfectly deflected Green Knight shot. In the second overtime, the junior momentarily bobbled a Rice header but regained control with the ball inches from being over the goal line.
There was nothing he could do two minutes later on another Rice header at the far post.
Forced to keep almost its entire team back against Rice’s talented lineup, Milton was only going to score Friday if Gay made it happen. While 10 Yellowjackets patrolled half the field, Gay took the other half and succeeded more than once in outworking the Rice back line.
His biggest success came on a brilliant hustle play with 33 minutes to go in the second half. The ball at his feet, Rice’s keeper tried to get a bit too cute instead of playing it safe and looked up to see Gay suddenly taking the ball away. The keeper dove back but couldn’t get the ball, so he grabbed Gay’s ankle and held him to prevent the tap-in goal. The play drew a questionably lenient yellow card for the keeper, but the important aspect for Milton was the awarded penalty. Gay coolly hit the spot kick to the keeper’s left to even things up at 1-1 and give Milton new life.
“Colby played extremely well today,” Button said. “He was a leader on the field for us, and we’re going to need that from him going forward as well.”
Though not an ideal result, Friday’s final line should be a source of pride for Milton. This win was Rice’s first to come by a single goal. The only other contests in which a team finished within a goal of Rice were losses for the Green Knights to undefeated CVU and to 8-2 Burlington. A win or draw Friday wasn’t necessary to prove Milton can compete with anyone in Division II.
“They’re one of the top teams in Division I. It was just a gritty effort by our guys, and hopefully we can build on this going forward,” said Button, whose Yellowjackets were back in action Monday night against a Vergennes team it beat 6-0 earlier this season.