Black Friday; Buchanan falls to Central in D-I Title Game
The Bears battle back after being down early before eventually losing 28-21 to Central as Kendall Milton rushes for 186 yards and three TDs in final game of storied career.
After a nightmare start to the game against nemesis Central, Buchanan still had a puncher’s chance at a Central Section championship.
Falling behind 21-0 within the game’s first seven minutes, the Bears battled, clawed, and fought tooth and nail, blazing a comeback trail behind the legs of one of the top running backs the nation.
However, the Bears walked off Koligian Stadium after another gut-wrenching loss.
Buchanan, seeking its first title since 2000, dug themselves a 21-0 hole before a furious comeback thanks to running back Kendall Milton’s three TD runs of 30, 78 and 35 yards before eventually falling to top-seed Central 28-21 on a frigid night the temperature dipped to 42 degrees.
Buchanan had one last shot with 1:57 left and the ball at their own 39, but on 4th and 23 a hook and ladder to Milton from Brandon Hernandez was snuffed out by the Grizzlies.
“This is one of the proudest moments I’ve had as a coach at Buchanan,” fourth year head coach Matt Giordano said. “Down 21-0 it takes a lot of heart to come back and get into the fight. I’m so proud of them. They never quit. That says a lot about these young men.”
The Bears (10-3) held the vaunted Central (13-0) air-attack, who came in averaging 270 passing yards per game with 46 touchdowns, to 99 yards and zero TDs through the air. Division I college recruits Xavier Worthy and Jeremiah Hunter were held largely in check.
But Central, ranked No. 6 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, found a way on the ground to the tune of 252 yards, 184 by senior Quali Conley on a whopping 35 carries and one touchdown. Junior Jekob Jones, doubling at linebacker, scored three 1-yard TDs, all in a wildcat formation.
It was Central’s third straight Central Section title.
Milton, a University of Georgia commit, finished the night with 186 rushing yards on only 13 carries, six of those coming in the fourth quarter. His first TD came on his first carry of the game with 4:48 in the first quarter after taking the kickoff 50 yards to the 30-yard line.
On his second touchdown, the 6-foot-2, 220 pounder, busted up the middle untouched for 78 yards at the end of the first quarter to cut the lead to 21-14, a score that stood up at halftime.
“What a tremendous game by Kendall Milton,” Giordano said. “I am so proud of him. We love him and he left his heart out there.”
Central head coach Kyle Biggs, who has watched Milton from the sidelines since he was brought up to varsity midway through his freshman year, had high praise for the highly recruited running back.
“He’s a very talented young man and he’s going to do a lot of great things,” Biggs said, the former Clovis quarterback who led the Cougars to a Valley title in 1997.
Central made it tough for the Bears’ passing game, sacking sophomore quarterback Ian Kirby ten times and holding him to 1-9 passing with an interception, his lone completion coming on the hook and ladder on Buchanan’s final play.
The ten sacks accounted for negative 58 yards.
Jones’ second TD was set up by a blocked punt downed at the 10-yard line. His third, with 1:57 left in the third quarter, came after an interception by Carter Anderson on a tipped ball by 6-foot-5, 320 pound lineman and Cal commit Ricky Correia.
Milton’s third TD of the game slashed the lead to 28-21 with 10:27 left but the offense stalled the rest of the game.
“It was a chess match, my hats off to Buchanan for a great game,” Biggs said. “Battling back down 21 points a lot of people would have given up. It was a dog fight.”
Buchanan has lost their last six games against Central, including this year 41-20 and for the Central Section title in 2017.
“They played their tails off tonight,” Giordano said. “Slowly but surely they fought all the way to the end. I’m proud of them.”