The Milford Buccaneers enter their season finale Friday night against Lake Forest in the annual Battle of the Bell as one of the top teams in the competitive Henlopen South Division.
All season long, the Bucs have battled it out with the like of Delmar and Woodbridge. A victory over rival Lake Forest in one of the biggest games of the season could have a huge impact on possible playoff positioning for Milford.
Having won six of eight games heading into last week’s matchup against Delmar, Milford has surpassed expectations a bit. After last season’s success, the Bucs entered this season with a number of new faces, yet they’ve continued to be a contender in Division II football.
“This year’s team is young, we are well rounded but very young,” said Milford Head Coach Shaun Strickland. “We have lost about 45-50 guys the last two years and now only have nine seniors this season.”
Every team finds themselves, at some time, in the position where they need to replace impact players. Milford hasn’t used that as an excuse despite the ups and downs they’ve gone through this season. For Coach Strickland, the resolve of his team has them in position to reach the postseason.
“While we have the talent, we’re still growing and learning and sometimes that shows,” Strickland said. “ But, when things click like they did against Woodbridge, IR, the second half against DMA, we are a very good football team.”
A huge part of the Bucs’ success this season has been due to the play of DJ Bowman, Milford’s standout running back who is quickly becoming a name to know statewide.
“DJ is a true leader, on and off the field. His presence just lifts the intensity and confidence of this team,” Strickland said. “As a coach, I would have to say he’s the hardest working and most dedicated to the sport that I have come across.”
Bowman has had a number of standout games this season, especially against Cape Henlopen, Seaford, Indian River and defending Division II Champion Woodbridge.
In just the first half against Seaford, Bowman ran for 130 yards and three touchdowns, leading Milford to 49-0 victory.
Against Cape Henlopen, Bowman’s 177 yard rushing and two touchdowns were the difference in a 28-27 win.
Bowman finished with five touchdowns and 176 yards on just nine carries in a win over Indian River; four of those touchdowns and 166 rushing yards came in the opening quarter.
In a huge 20-6 win over Woodbridge, Bowman rushed for an incredible 251 yards on the ground while adding three touchdowns.
Bowman has gone over 1,000 yards rushing for the year to go along with his 21 touchdowns. Over his career at Milford, Bowman has rushed for more than 4,500 yards and scored 60 touchdowns.
The standout senior has also contributed on the defensive end for Milford as their strong safety.
With just one game remaining, Bowman is closing in on Milford’s all-time record for tackles in a career.
By the end of the year, he could be Buc’s top offensive and defensive player ever, along with posting a 3.7 GPA taking honors and AP classes at Milford.
“Everything he does has a purpose, whether it’s in the weight room, on the field at practice, the way he runs the ball and even in the classroom,” Strickland said. “ He is methodical as a runner and dedicated as a student, he’s the true definition of a student-athlete.”
Many players have left their mark on the Milford football program and Bowman will join that talented group when he plays his last regular season game as a Buc Friday night against Lake Forest.
“At the end of the day, there is no replacing DJ Bowman, he is one of a kind as are many of the players in this state,” Strickland said. “You just hope that as a coach the work ethic and dedication they have put in is not lost on the youth of the program and those guys begin to commit more and more every day to carry on the tradition that guys like DJ, Shawn Snowden, Greg Clarke, Tyler Norwood and so many others have helped to recreate here at Milford.”
With one more important game to go, Coach Strickland believes this year’s team is better prepared for late season, high-pressure games.
“I would say the difference this time around is that we were tested early,” Strickland said. “We were in some dog fights early on and some we have come out on top, others we have not, but we know what adversity looks like and we know how to respond.”
Milford will look to win the Battle of the Bell for the second straight season when they kick things off against Lake Forest Friday at home starting at 7 p.m.