Football: John Stark overcomes 19-point deficit in third quarter to upset Milford


Monitor staff

Published: 09-03-2023 9:41 PM

With 8:39 left in the third quarter the Generals trailed 27-6. It’s an impossible deficit for an individual to overcome. But not for a family.

The John Stark football team, armed with three years of advice from head coach Ray Kershaw, three years of experience playing together, and another year of maturity, the Generals pulled together to come from behind to claim a 30-27 victory, the program’s first win over the Spartans, to open the 2023 season.

Cade Cloutier ran in a touchdown, his first of three, on the first possession of the game to make it 7-0 Milford early. Cloutier ran in another touchdown in the second quarter before Stark senior running back Donnie White broke away for a 66 yard score to put the Generals on the board.

Milford’s Braedyn Mellen returned a fumble 40 yards to make it 20-6 Milford at halftime.

“We spoke to the kids at halftime about settling down and relaxing,” John Stark head coach Ray Kershaw said. “They were very receptive to it, very positive. They knew what we had to do in the second half. We executed and settled down."

This is Kershaw’s third year in charge of the Generals’ program, and the core of the roster has been with him for three years. The confidence and maturity to be receptive of Kershaw’s halftime message, and then execute it, is not something this group likely would have been able to do in past seasons.

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“The maturity is obvious, it’s a huge step,” Kershaw said. “The biggest problem we'd always had since I started was that there was a lot of individualism. Today, I had a nice conversation with them before the game started about coming together, they finally did that today."

The same message also came from his son, Josh Kershaw, who coaches the offensive line. The unit of seniors Rory Magoon, Stephen Johnston and Mike Jezierski, and juniors Alex Descoteau and Cole Biagiotti was unstoppable in the second half, allowing Stark’s running game to flourish, as the Generals outgained Milford 211 yards to 77 in the second half.

“The O-line said ‘Coach, we are not going to lose this game,’” Ray Kershaw said. “They’ve really jelled. Once I heard that, I knew they were a family.”

Despite the resolve coming out of the locker room at halftime, Cloutier ran in his third TD of the game to give the Spartans a 27-6 lead. 

But Stark’s junior quarterback Joey Dykstra took over from there, scoring on an 8-yard run and tossing a 36-yard TD pass to Joseph Antognoni, with Weston Haartz running in a pair of 2-point conversions to cut Milford’s lead to 27-22 heading into the fourth.

White punched in the game-winning touchdown from one yard out with 9:07 left in the game to make it 30-27. Milford had a chance to tie the game when Stark was forced to punt with 47.6 seconds left, but the Spartans fumbled the return.

Kershaw also credited Stark’s defense, especially linebackers Dykstra and senior Deltyn Williams.

“Once the defense settled in and started doing their assignments, they did a great job,” Kershaw said. “They gave our offense a chance.”

John Stark next plays on Saturday when the Generals host Hanover (1-0) at 2 p.m.