MILTON -- The preseason is finally over for the Milton High School (MHS) football team as the Yellow Jackets turned to interscholastic competition Tuesday with Senior Night against Essex.
The visiting Hornets spoiled the celebration, however, by claiming a 34-6 victory.
Still, it was an interesting experience for players and coaches, and an interesting sight for fans, as the sport is being played differently in Vermont this year.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, high school football is being facilitated in a 7-on-7 touch format with players wearing helmets, but not the rest of their pads. Additional rules are:
- There are no running plays. All plays must be forward passes or they result in the loss of down.
- Teams can choose to kick off to start each half and after scoring like normal, but it is purely to allow for skill development; the opposing team will automatically start its possession on its own 30-yard line regardless of where the kick lands.
- Teams can punt, but the opposing team cannot make a return. The ball is spotted where the return team catches the football or where it lands if untouched. Muffed catches that go forward will be spotted where they were touched.
- Field goals and extra points can be attempted, but the opposing team is not permitted to rush and defend them.
- Interceptions are live and play can continue, but fumbles are automatically dead balls.
- Quarterbacks have four seconds to release the ball. If it takes them longer, the play will continue but be brought back after to the spot of the snap, and the offense will be issued a loss of down.
- Ball carriers only need to be touched with one hand by the defense. Incidental contact is not considered an active touch that will result in the play being ended.
- The lineman group will play in the first and third quarters while the backs and receivers will play in the second and fourth.
How it happened
First Quarter: It might have been first-game jitters, or maybe players who don’t routinely catch the ball trying to reel it in, but it was likely the heavy rain that made for wet hands and tough footing which led to a slew of dropped passes early on for both sides.
Neither team could get much going through their first two possessions as they combined for three punts.
Milton got the first good chance of getting on the scoreboard after a long pass up the right side to senior Gavin Huntley put the Yellow Jackets in the red zone.
Second Quarter: After the teams flipped the field following Huntley’s reception, the hosts were unable to capitalize from five yards out and turned the ball over on downs. Essex responded by stringing together a long drive of its own, despite a few drops, and capped it with a nice, lofting throw to the back-left corner of the end zone.
EHS would build another time-eating drive late in the half to go on top 12-0, and an interception on the ensuing Milton possession in the final minute of the second quarter sent the game to the break with that score intact.
Third Quarter: Essex extended its lead early in the second half after moving the ball deep into the Yellow Jackets’ end of the field. The Hornet quarterback looked to the right before coming back to find a teammate in the middle of the end zone, and the two-point conversion was successful with a great tip-toe catch making it a 20-0 contest.
Milton came back and took about six minutes off the clock as the hosts looked to end the shutout. While a second EHS interception put an end to the drive, the Yellow Jackets picked the ball off shortly after to get back into business.
This time, the hosts made the most of it and were able to get the ball across the goal line. Junior quarterback Kayden Burke dropped the snap from the 20-yard line, but he was able to recover and get it off in time -- finding junior Scott Ellsworth over the top for the touchdown.
Fourth Quarter: That would be it for Milton, however, as the remaining scores went to the Hornets. The first came early into the final stanza while the other was the punctuation mark with about four minutes left to go. The Yellow Jackets attempted to trim the deficit and make the final score a little closer with a late drive, but an interception capped the night.
Thoughts from MHS Coach Jim Provost
How did it feel to finally get out and play football, even though it was in this unique style?
“It is a unique style, but we're happy to be out here. I thought our kids gave a great effort. Essex is better than us; there's no shame in that. But even though we lost, it did feel good to get out here, and I thought we gave a pretty good effort. Our execution was not quite there at times, we had a couple of missed opportunities early that we failed to capitalize on, and that came back to bite us.”
Was there one aspect of the way your team played tonight that you’re specifically proud of?
“Hanging in there; they didn't give up. Even though the clock's ticking and the score was getting out of hand a little bit, they hung in there. So our effort was there, we're going to work on the execution part.”