There is a streaker on the field. Well, not a streaker, technically – he’s wearing a red v-neck and acid wash jeans. But in the middle of the Millikan Rams football game against the visiting Western Pioneers last Friday night, some young soul felt it necessary to hop down from the stands and run across the field.
The packed crowd had been going crazy all game. There is palpable energy surrounding Millikan football this year, and it can be felt everywhere from the pregame huddle to the top row of the bleachers. Against Western, sometimes that electricity manifested itself in a motivating speech between teammates. Other times, it came as the crowd rode an emotional rollercoaster with every single play. One guy felt the best way to express himself was to make a run for it.
Both the team and their fans treat the game like they know they can win, but – with the memory of last year’s 0-12 record fresh in their minds – like they also know it can slip away at any moment. Many remember what it feels like to watch a game fall hopelessly out of reach. When something does go right, the Rams seem in danger of going overboard with pleasure. The most difficult job facing Millikan coaches this season may be harnessing and channeling the intense emotions in their players.
Last week, Millikan made it work. For the first time in 24 months, the Rams closed out a home game with a victory, defeating Western 32-25 for their second win of the year. It marks their first winning streak since 2009, and the first two career victories for second-year head coach Lyn Perryman. Armed with new weapons and several additions to the coaching staff, Perryman promised to field an improved team this year. So far, his players have backed it up.
Millikan has always relied on pure grit and effort to give themselves a chance. Often outsized – former head coach Kirk Diego famously used to say, “They just grow ‘em smaller out here” – the Rams have to look for other ways to win. Against Western, that meant a steady combination of good football and coming out on the lucky side of ugly football. They sometimes had to battle themselves as much as their opponents.
Spirits ran high after senior quarterback Dean Duggan tossed a 40-yard bomb to speedster Malik Brown to put Millikan up 7-0 in the first quarter. After Western closed the gap to 7-6 and then intercepted a Duggan pass, shoulders drooped on the Ram sideline. “We’re still winning!” Millikan coaches implored. “It’s still early!”
This is part of the emotional management, but begging rarely works. At one point, Western starts five consecutive drives in Millikan territory. Ram sophomore running back Anthony Cardswell also handles punting duties, but shanks two out of bounds. A coach meets him at the sideline:
“Stop that [expletive] pouting.”
Western takes a 13-7 lead.
Western is threatening again just before the half, and though they’re only down six, the air is deflated on the Millikan sideline. All of a sudden, Brown jumps a post pattern for an interception, jetting up the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown and 14-13 Millikan lead. As Brown headed for the end zone on that interception return, he excitedly lifted his hand in what looked like a taunt at the chasing Pioneer quarterback.
It could have just been excitement; it could have been bragging. No flag was thrown, but one Millikan coach pulls him aside: “You’re a better man than that,” he says. Brown starts to protest, then relents. “I’m sorry,” Brown nods. “Ok.” Brown learns a lesson, and Millikan takes the momentum, and momentum means everything to them.
In the second half, the sideline narrative has changed again.
“Dominate!” yells one coach. “Dominate! Dominate!”
Millikan falls behind 19-14 until the Rams stuff a handoff and defensive end Charles Bonds recovers the Western fumble and took it 65 yards for another score.
“Let’s get it!”
Millikan recovers the ensuing onside kickoff, scores a touchdown, and then junior Justin Padilla recovers another fumble and Millikan scores another touchdown. In just under seven minutes, Millikan had scored 18 unanswered points. When it rains, it pours.
That could be a gift and a curse for Millikan. Opportunistic football isn’t a sustainable game plan, especially once the Moore League season begins and the competition improves dramatically. The emotion of the moment helped Millikan force three consecutive turnovers, but is also hurt them early and often.
Yet, emotion isn’t the only reason the Rams are 2-1; there is more pure talent at Millikan now than there has been since the magical 2009 season. Brown is a legitimate weapon against any defense, and Cardswell recovers to post 113 rushing yards and a touchdown. Duggan the quarterback is efficient and accurate, and Duggan the linebacker is unbelievably gutsy. The high point comes with Millikan leading 32-19 late in the game, when big Ram lineman Ben Bond crashes through the pocket to sack the quarterback. He turns to the crowd, twists his hands into horns on his helmet and roars. The crowd loses it, but Western scores a few players later. Give and take.
Maybe the crowd reached a breaking point. Maybe they were just being kids. Whatever the reason, the student ran onto the field between plays in a crucial Western drive late in the game – literally right under the nose of two referees. Here’s the weird part, though: No one paid him any attention. The referees didn’t budge. He ran like Security would tackle him any second, but no one chased. He hopped the fence along Palo Verde Avenue, and escaped into the darkness to hide from the non-existent pursuers. It was strange.
The crowd, however, definitely notices him. Millikan fans scream with delight as he runs across the field and whoop and holler as he escapes over the chain link. Some coaches and players, still unaware, turn to smile and encourage the cheers. They think it’s for them.