By David Fong
MIAMISBURG — Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy lived up to — and possibly exceeded — its advanced billing.
The Eagles, which finished the regular season ranked No. 3 in the state, jumped out to a 39-7 halftime lead and then held on for a 45-28 win over Milton-Union in a Division V regional semifinal Saturday at Miamisburg High School. With the win, CHCA moved on to next week’s Region 20 championship game against Coldwater, while Milton-Union’s season came to an end at 8-4.
“They are a good team,” Milton coach Mark Lane said of CHCA. “They are a very good team. They are going to do some great things.”
Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy set the tone for the night on the very first play of the game when sophomore running back Alex Barnard broke free on a 62-yard touchdown run, putting the Eagles up 7-0 early.
It didn’t get any better from there. After the CHCA forced a punt, the Eagles were back in business on the Bulldog 36-yard line. The next scoring drive took just two plays, as quarterback Danny Venatsky hooked up with Adam Baker on a touchdown pass to extend the lead to 14-0.
Following another Milton punt, the Eagles needed just six plays to score, capping off the drive with a short touchdown run by Kesean Gamble to take a 21-0 lead.
The Eagles would score a touchdown on every drive it had in the first half — save for when it took over with 12 seconds to play in the second quarter following Milton-Union’s lone score of the half — as it raced out to a 39-0 lead. Following the touchdown by Gamble, Venatsky would hook up with Isaac Carpenter on a touchdown pass, Gamble would add a second touchdown run and Venatsky would scored on a nifty 64-yard scramble to push the lead to 39-0.
One of the highlights for Milton was the special teams play of Blake Smith, who finished the night with four blocked extra point attempts, including two in the first half.
In the first half, CHCA racked up 388 yards in total offense. Vanatsky completed 11 of 13 passes for 156 yards and two touchdown passes in the first half alone. As a team, the Eagles had 13 carries for 232 yards — a staggering 17.9 yards per carry as a team — and four touchdowns in the first two quarters.
Milton’s offense finally got on track near the end of the half, putting together a drive that culminated in a 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown by Zach Vagedes.
Despite the deep hole the Bulldogs found themselves in at halftime, they didn’t quit. Milton took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove the length of the field. The drive stalled at the CHCA 14, but on fourth down, Vagedes fired off a pass to Smith, who made a spectacular catch in the end zone to cut the Eagles’ lead to 39-14.
“I knew these kids wouldn’t quit,” Lane said. “They don’t know the meaning of quit. We simplified some things at halftime, but mostly it was execution. These guys wanted to go out on their own terms.”
Milton’s defense would force the Eagles’ first punt of the game on the ensuing drive, but CHCA picked off a Milton pass in Bulldog territory. The Eagles would go 40 yards with Gamble scoring his third touchdown of the night to extend the lead to 45-14.
Again, though, Milton refused to quit. On its next drive, a big gain from Vagedes to Smith helped set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Krue Thwaits, cutting the lead to 45-21. Zac Shields would add a touchdown run in the final seconds to cut the lead to 45-28.
The game would end that way as Milton’s second-straight playoff season came to an end.
“I’m proud of these kids,” Lane said. “They fought hard all season.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong