Millennium runs around, through Gilbert in dominant playoff victory


Usually by the time the football playoffs begin, every team is an open book.

But Millennium coach Lamar Early had an ace up his sleeve entering Friday's 5A first round game with Gilbert. Not much on film or in the scorebook (27 carries for 357) suggested senior leading receiver Larry Craft was actually the Tigers top every-down rushing threat.

Craft took a handoff on the Tigers' first snap 67 yards for a touchdown and rarely slowed down from there. He finished with 18 carries for 253 yards and two scores, leading #5 Millennium (9-2) to a 45-14 pasting of #12 Gilbert (4-7).

"We knew what he could do. He's special as you can see. We move him around and had some backs. After a while it was like, 'Ok, just put Larry there and we did during tryouts, Phew, he's a tough guy to bring down," Early said with a smile.

Millennium played against type. Entering the playoffs, Caft was the team's second-leading rusher behind quarterback Jalan Early, but only had the fourth most carries on the team. His highest usage rate was 9 rushes against Avondale Agua Fria.

So when they saw the game plan, the Tigers linemen, lefd by senior tackle Lee Sampson and junior guard Mika Fuamatu, could hardly wait.

"I couldn't stop thinking about it all week. The game was what we wanted. We went out there and dominated. It was routine," Sampson said. "We actually predicted about 30 minutes before the game. I got a pancake block, (Mika got a  pancake block)."

Other Tigers ball-carriers quickly joined in on the fun.

Jalan Early deked a defender and jetted 32 yards on the next drive. That set up a 15-yard touchdown run by Brady Murphy on a draw.

The next Millennium drive stalled in the red zone, so sophomore Dallas Rubel chipped in a 23-yard field goal.

The Tigers' defense forced another three-and-out and the offense scored in about a minute. A 22-yard strike from Early to senior slot receiver Kyle St. Pierre set up a 39-yard touchdown burst by Craft.

"Speed is one of the biggest things we have. Our o-line did a great job tonight, blocking and finishing," Lamar Early said.

The home team led 24-0 with nine minutes left in the half. University of Arizona-bound quarterback led Gilbert on a drive into the red zone.

But the Millennium defense stuffed senior fullback Davi Solomon on fourth and one at the 4.

Early led the offense on a long drive in the waning moments of the half. St. Pierre ran a textbook corner route and his quarterback zipped a 10-yard scoring pass to him to secure a 31-0 halftime lead.

"We had our game plan, we had our goal," Fuamatu said.

So did the defense. Plummer threw for 289 yards on the night but most of it was in the short or intermediate zone. Senior cornerbacks Kaysan Barnett and Treydan Stukes shut down Plummer's top targets.

The linebacking corps of Jamarlo Campbell, Brandon Fondong and Murphy also frequently dropped back into coverage.

"Our d-backs are very underrated, They focus mainly on our linebackers," Craft said.  "But our cornerbacks are lockdown."

Craft was a fitting player to compliment the secondary. They erased his miscue, a third-quarter fumble when he carried the ball very loosely.

Gilbert took over near midfield and drove it to the Millennium 31. Plummer took a shot into the end zone, but Stukes was there for the pick. 

"It starts with our DC (Mike Loprich). He studied every Gilbert game and came up with a game plan. It was phenomenal. Our defense has been playing well all year. And they look forward to the challenge," Lamar Early said.

After that interception, the challenge was over. Plummer threw for two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Craft had an 82-yard scoring dash nullified by a hold.

While most of his team's mistakes were minor, Lamar Early was quick to point out that they cannot continue next week in the quarterfinals against No. 4 seed Queen Creek Casteel (8-3).

"We lost our focus a bit in the third quarter. We're going to talk about discipline things and executing in the second half," Early said.

The dominant line paved the way for more than 400 yards on the ground and even cleaned up one of those mistakes. Early fumbled a quarterback sneak into the end zone but Fuamatu was there to fall on it and score.

It was that kind of night for a veteran team led byu 35 seniors that is reaching its apex at the right time.

"As a team we're closer this year. We want ot more and we're dedicated to getting it," Craft said.