GRAYLING — It was a moment to treasure no matter the circumstances, and a little confusing for the Grayling football team which had not won a home game this season until Friday night.
But the Vikings gained revenge for an earlier 41-28 loss to the Huskies in the Northern Michigan Football League-Legends with a convincing 47-12 victory in a Division 6 playoff game in Grayling, earning a chance to move on … and ring the victory bell.
It was the Vikings’ third straight win, improving their record to 4-3 on the season. They will meet Manistee for the first time in a district semifinal in Manistee. The Chippewas rolled over Kalkaska, 62-6 in their first-round game. Manistee is 5-2, with one forfeit loss.
Afterward the players didn’t know quite how to react, since they’d never had the chance to ring the victory bell after a game. But eventually the bell tolled at Donald L. Ferguson Field for the first time this season.
“Our kids played well, (and) did a lot of things well,” Grayling head coach Eric Tunney said. “It was a good win for the kids. Benzie was without a lot of their kids unfortunately. That’s kind of tough. But we’re moving on. Hopefully, it gives us some momentum.
“We got a bunch of the younger kids in the second half. It was good to get them playoff experience. Defensively, we moved some guys around and tried some things out. They couldn’t run up the middle on us.”
Except for a one-hour session at Grayling’s field prior to the game, Benzie had not practiced all week and were without 13 players who did not make the trip because of COVID-19 quarantine. All of them were starters. Even with several junior varsity call ups, the Huskies brought only 20 players.
Making matters worse for the Huskies, they lost two more players to injuries early in the game and played most of the contest with just six players on the bench.
Grayling, playing its first home playoff game since 2013, broke away from a 7-6 game early and was never threatened thereafter in punching its ticket into this week’s district semifinal.
David Millikin rushed for 171 yards on 12 attempts and five touchdowns, falling one rushing touchdown short of the school record of six in a single game.
“He’s been special all year,” Tunney said. “He can bust one at any time. The O-line blocked for him pretty well.”
The Vikings also scored two touchdowns through the air, with quarterback Hunter Ventline completing 4 of 9 passes for 147 yards. Dylan Cragg had both TD receptions, and one other for a total of 129 yards. Ventline added 39 yards on the ground, while Jake Huspen ran for 33 and Anthony Fisher picked up 30.
Millikin opened the scoring with a five-yard run, but the Huskies would answer that with a 23-yard touchdown pass. The extra point attempt failed, leaving the Vikings leading, 7-6.
The Vikings boosted their lead to 14-6 later in the first quarter when Millikin broke off a 50-yard run. Ventline tossed a 25-yard scoring strike to Cragg, as the Vikings extended their lead to 21-6.
Millikin scored again, this time on a seven-yard run which bumped the Vikings’ lead up to 27-6. Benzie went to the air for its second touchdown, completing a 35-yard pass. The try for two points was stopped, and the Huskies again cut into the Vikings lead, making it 21-12.
Grayling scored three more times before the end of the first half, Millikin scoring on runs of six and 52 yards, respectively, and Cragg catching a 35-yard pass as Grayling led, 47-12 at half.
“Confidence is huge, especially for a teenager,” Tunney said. “You want to be smart. You don’t want kids to be hurt. But definitely, a three-game winning streak is good. We’ll get back to work Monday.”
Andrew Kanary led the defense with eight tackles, two for loss. Jordan Wakeley and Millikin also were in on eight tackles apiece, Reid Cvitovich had seven tackles, one for loss.
Wakeley and Anthony Harrington each had an interception, and Kanary came up with a fumble recovery.
“Even next week isn’t guaranteed, with all the schools and teams having to shut down, and having to forfeit and all that,” Tunney said. “That adds another element to it.
“I keep telling the kids ‘Enjoy it. Enjoy each day of practice and enjoy each game. I’m glad they got another chance to play at home, especially the seniors. We’ll play as long as we’re able to, and hopefully keep winning.”