Souhegan, Milford ready for gridiron duel
The opponent is noteworthy, but the result is all that matters.
Milford and Souhegan – each armed with emerging stars – will renew its rivalry with a Division II football battle Friday night at 7 p.m. Although there will be plenty of buzz about bragging rights in the crowd at Milford, both teams are trying to keep it simple as kickoff approaches.
The Sabers (1-3) are coming off back-to-back lopsided losses at the hands of perennial powers St. Thomas Aquinas and Windham. Souhegan coach Mike Lochman knows his team needs to reverse course to make a postseason push.
"The game against Milford is always interesting because it’s a good rivalry game, but we’re in a situation right now where we have to win no matter who we’re playing next," Lochman explained.
The Spartans (3-1), meanwhile, have taken care of business in their last two outings against struggling programs Pelham and Manchester West.
Milford won the last meeting between the schools, knocking the Sabers off in the D-II quarterfinals last season after Souhegan had won the regular-season battle.
"That was a tough way for us to end. You know that when you beat a team that is your top rival in season, it’s going to be a lot harder to beat that team twice," Lochman said. "We knew as soon as we drew them last year, we were in for a tough one."
Milford coach Keith Jones expects the next chapter to be another memorable one, but has urged his team to approach the game like it’s business as usual.
"It’s always a great one. You throw the records out in this one," Jones said. "The kids know there will be a big crowd, but one thing that we’ve always done here is that no matter who we’re playing, we’re playing the best team in the country every week. That’s how we prepare."
One player Milford will likely keep an eye on is Souhegan junior running back/safety Dante Savo, who has proven to be a key contributor in all three phases of the game. Savo leads Souhegan in rushing yards, tackles and return yardage.
"He was a good player last year. The only reason he wasn’t in there is because we had a batch of senior running backs that were very effective. He probably could have started for a lot of teams last year," Lochman said. "He has really developed into a physical player, and that I wasn’t expecting. He runs really hard. He knows how to get his pads down and punish tacklers, which is a tremendous surprise for us. We’re very happy about that."
However, Souhegan’s rushing attack will be hindered by injuries over the past couple of weeks along the offensive line.
"We lost a couple of our linemen, which are going to be a challenge to replace, especially because Milford is pretty good up front," Lochman said. "We’re going to have to do some reshuffling this week to get our best guys in there."
The Spartans enjoy pounding the rock, but first-year starting quarterback Zach King has given his coaches the option to air it out. The junior has been extremely efficient with his opportunities.
"He’s been just amazing as far as completion percentage. He’s been throwing the ball right where somebody can catch it," Jones said of King. "He’s making it a lot easier for us to call the offense, because it’s easier to mix it up. We don’t have to run the ball 80 percent of the time.
"We saw him last year as a sophomore. He wasn’t the starter, but he got a lot of reps. We knew he could move and throw the ball," the Milford coach added. "Did I expect it to be like this? No. He’s exceeding my preseason expectations."
The Spartans’ rushing attack has been one with numerous options.
"We’ve found that we always seem like we have a fresh back in the game," Jones said. "Right now we have a good rotation."
The teams are already familiar with each other, not only because of proximity, but the squads also spent a preseason camp together in August. It just adds another layer to Friday’s clash.
"The players all know each other pretty well. I think that’s a lot of fun. … Our whole team is (at camp), their whole team is there, they’re doing drills together, they’re competing together, so that’s a cool thing," Lochman said. "(The rivalry) is not as one-sided as it once was, unfortunately for us, but the reality is that makes it a more interesting game every year.
"I think guys on both sides really get up for it and typically you see both teams playing their best football against each other."