Going into their Nov. 20 game, both Millennium and Kellis had football teams with winless records, and no reason to play other than pride and a love of football.
Millennium and Kellis were quickly matched up after both squads had their originally scheduled games - against Ironwood and Willow Canyon, respectively - canceled for COVID-related reasons. In a season plagued with cancellations, increased sanitation protocols, and unpredictability, the Tigers and Cougars were grateful to even be able to play.
Even as Millennium’s 47-6 win on Kellis' field brought them their first and only win of the season, appreciation shined on both sides.
“We didn’t give up,” said Kellis senior running back Alex Medina. “[There was] a lot of times [where] we could’ve easily just said, ‘Let them run the ball, it doesn’t matter, we’re already losing,’ but Coach Hogg taught us not to do that… It didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but at least I can go home saying I didn’t leave it on there.”
The first quarter proved to be difficult for the Cougars’ defense. In less than two minutes, Millennium (1-5) senior quarterback Nicholas Vasko advanced the Tigers down the field and to the end zone.
Vasko only needed five plays before handing it off to senior running back Jaylen Hawkins for a running touchdown. The Tigers quickly took the lead 7-0.
Vasko - who recently transferred to Millennium from Westview High School after the Tolleson Union High School District canceled its schools' seasons - kept the Tigers in play with his screens and his own running skills.
His go-to receiver was senior Elijah Lewis, who had six receptions from Vasko, two of them being touchdown passes. Vasko also frequently chose Hawkins to carry to ball for the Tigers, Hawkins scoring two of three touchdowns in the first half.
At the end of the half, Vasko and the Millennium squad dominated the Cougars offensively, with the score at 23-6.
“I just told them in the huddle every time [that] we were going to score, trying to get their mindset right,” Vasko said.
Overall, the Tigers’ head coach Lamar Early was impressed with the transfer student’s performance, even though Vasko’s newness to the team meant he was still getting used to playing with the Tigers.
“[Vasko] played well. I’m just happy he got an opportunity to play,” he said.
Kellis (0-8) head coach Stephen Hogg expressed the same gratitude despite his team’s struggling execution on the field. The Cougars’ offense dropped snaps, missed tackles, and even suffered a safety by Millennium, but senior quarterback Andrew Palacio still made some highlight plays.
As the first quarter ticked to an end, Palacio decided to keep the ball and run for nearly 70 yards to score the Cougar’s first and only touchdown. Palacio also split defenders for several Cougars first downs and kept the ball alive by scrambling away from the Tigers’ defensive pressure.
All in all, a 47-6 defeat didn’t reflect the win that Hogg and his program always strived for, but it did show determination.
It also was Hogg's final game coaching the Cougars. He announced his resignation in a letter posted on the Kellis Football Booster Club Facebook page ealier this week.
Kellis football coach Stephen Hogg looks over a play sheet while he takls to his players during a break in the Cougars Nov. 20 home game against Millennium. Earlier in the week, Hogg announced his resignation after three years coaching at Kellis. [Courtesy Kellis Football Booster Club]
Early, Hogg, and their players were grateful that their teams even got the opportunity to play. With the season ending, bittersweet feelings were present on both sidelines.
“I’m sad but I’m happy that we got to even play,” Early said. “They played like it was their last time, I was very happy.”
The last-minute switch-up between teams added some confusion to the Cougars’ last week of play but presented its own type of silver lining. Hogg saw it as another chance to be grateful for their unlikely season.
“We went from ‘We don’t think we’re playing one more game at all,’ to playing an extra home game, so these seniors got an extra opportunity to play on their home field, which is pretty cool,” said Hogg.
Millennium and Kellis remain at the bottom of the 5A West I and II regions, but they were just two small, working parts in an unusual and unpredictable 2020 season like no other. And they had one more chance to put on the jersey.