ORANGEVILLE – Clinging to a one-possession lead midway through the fourth quarter Saturday, Milledgeville needed first downs to remain undefeated on the season.
The Missiles were stuffed on first and second down as the clock inched closer to zeroes, but converted three crucial third downs and one fourth down to salt away a 20-14 victory over league foe Orangeville.
Milledgeville (5-0, 3-0 NUIC Upstate) faced third-&-7 from its own 33-yard line with just under 6 minutes to play, as quarterback Jack Munz found tight end Marcus McKenna over the middle for a gain of 22 yards.
“The line held up as long as they could, and that gave me the right amount of time,” Munz said. “Our receivers weren’t let free on their release, but they did a nice job getting open.”
Orangeville (3-2, 3-2) forced the Missiles into another third-&-7 with less than 4 minutes to go, but Carson Boyer’s 8-yard scamper that once again moved the chains.
Milledgeville fullback Cayde Gusloff converted a fourth-&-1 with 2:35 left thanks to a tough 2-yard run between the guards, and gained 5 yards on third-&-2 with a little more than a minute remaining to preserve the victory.
“Third downs like those late in the game are a lot of pressure,” Gusloff said. “I just did what I could and ran as hard as I could.”
Orangeville coach Jay Doyle said his team did not have a good week of practice leading up to Saturday’s game, which led to a handful of mistakes.
“In order to get back in the game, we needed a three-and-out and have the ball with about 4 minutes left to do something,” Doyle said. “I think our defense played hard in the second half, but those errors of fumbling and not hitting a deep ball before they caught on to it add up when you lose a game by six points.”
The Missiles marched 60 yards on 12 plays to open the contest. Munz picked up 14 yards on a fourth-down scramble to the Broncos’ 1, and Gusloff capped the 4-minute, 27-second drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Gusloff did the dirty work all day for Milledgeville, racking up 115 yards on 28 carries.
“I know our line did a lot of work, and I did my best to find the hole,” Gusloff said. “I put two hands on the ball and got the yards we needed.”
Orangeville fumbled on its first play from scrimmage, but Milledgeville was unable to capitalize on the opportunity. On the first play of their next drive, Broncos quarterback Carter Klecker found a wide-open Garret Rodebaugh on a waggle play for a 59-yard score. Rodebaugh ran in the two-point conversion to give Orangeville an 8-6 advantage with 5:38 left in the first quarter.
Rodebaugh rumbled 44 yards on Orangeville’s third play from scrimmage, but Milledgeville linebacker Damon Miller pounced on a fumble by Kleckler a play later.
The Missiles took advantage of good field possession early in the second quarter to capture a lead they would never relinquish. An 11-yard punt by the Broncos meant Milledgeville only needed 26 yards to reach the end zone.
Munz fumbled a snap at the Orangeville 1, but gathered the ball and still crossed the goal line. The senior signal-caller then hit Nathan Rahn on a short pass for the two-point conversion, giving the visitors a 14-8 lead with 8:38 to go before halftime.
A 32-yard pass to Grant Schurman and a 14-yard run by Gusloff set the Missiles up near the goal line on their next possession. Carson Boyer plunged into the end zone from a yard out to put the Missiles up 20-8 at intermission.
Milledgeville ran 41 plays from scrimmage in the first half to Orangeville’s 16 plays.
“We were moving around too much and weren’t reading our keys,” Doyle said. “The first and second quarter is what cost us in the end.”
Rahn was held in check offensively by the Broncos, but made two big plays on defense to thwart a comeback. The senior intercepted a pass late in the second quarter, and made a shoestring tackle on Chase Jordan’s 79-yard run to save a touchdown.
Milledgeville’s defense forced a turnover on downs deep in its own territory, but Zach Baker blocked a punt four plays later to set Orangeville up at the Missiles’ 6-yard line late in the third quarter.
On third-&-goal, Rodebaugh scored to cut Orangeville’s deficit to 20-14 with 11:03 remaining.
The Missiles owned a 20-5 advantage in first downs, and finished with 69 plays from scrimmage to Orangeville’s 33.
Boyer and Rahn combined for just 44 yards on 19 carries, as the Broncos stymied the duo’s off-tackle runs.
“I was hoping we would eventually pop off a big play, but they have a lot of speed and loaded the box,” Milledgeville coach Jason Wroble said of Orangeville. “They swarmed every handoff, but we still found a way to move the pile.”
Munz heeded his coach’s pregame words about being efficient through the air, completing 5 of 7 passes for 68 yards. He also rushed 15 times for 49 yards.
“I could tell that their ends were flying upfield, and their linebackers weren’t hitting the holes as hard as they would,” Munz said. “So we thought handing it to Cayde or following him as an extra blocker would be better.”
Rodebaugh racked up 141 total yards and rushed 15 times for Orangeville.
Milledgeville came in having outscored its first four opponents by a combined 159-23, but completed its stretch of four straight road games with a hard-fought victory.
“This was the type of game where we came in and survived,” Wroble said. “Orangeville came out swinging, but we did what we had to do to come out with a W. ”We have to improve in a lot of facets in our game, and build on this and learn from it.”
Milledgeville 20, Orangeville 14
Player of the game: Cayde Gusloff, Milledgeville, 28 carries, 115 yards, TD
Key performers: Jack Munz, Milledgeville, 5-for-7, 15 carries, 117 total yards, rushing TD; Garret Rodebaugh, Orangeville, 15 carries, 141 total yards, 2 TDs
Up next: Warren at Milledgeville, 7 p.m. Friday