Huron Valley Milford held its own with undefeated Hartland for three quarters, but it would ultimately be the Eagles that would deliver the Mavericks their third straight loss.
Hartland scored 9 points in the fourth quarter to break a 7-7 tie and defeat Milford, 16-7, at home on Friday, Sept. 14 to move to 4-0 on the season and remain tied with Grand Blanc for first-place in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association (KLAA) West Division at 2-0.
Meanwhile, Milford has gone winless in a three-game gauntlet against Plymouth, Grand Blanc and Hartland and is now 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the KLAA West.
At this point last season, Milford was 3-1, but it is now in danger having its state playoff hopes dashed before the final week of the season arrives.
The Mavericks appeared ready to stun the Eagles in the first quarter when quarterback Alex Larson faked a handoff to Darrion Spencer and rushed 67 yards up the middle for a touchdown and a 7-0 Milford lead, stunning the Hartland faithful.
Prior to Milford’s score, Hartland’s offense was driven back to its own 4-yard line after a false-start penalty, and drove to the Milford 20-yard line before Alec Bain missed a 25-yard field goal attempt.
The Mavs’ lead would last until the 6-and-a-half minute mark of the second quarter, when Austin Pierce scored for Hartland on an 11-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7.
Milford drove from its own 20-yard line to the Hartland 20 on its next drive, only to have Larson stuffed a yard short on a fourth-down rushing attempt.
But, the Mavs’ defense would hold and force a Hartland turnover on downs, ensuring a 7-7 halftime tie.
Milford punted on its first drive of the third quarter, pinning Hartland at its own 9-yard line.
However, Pierce would find a hole and burst ahead for a 60-yard run from his own 14-yard line to the Milford 24.
Hartland then found itself with a fourth-and-goal situation at the Milford 3-yard line, but Cameron Bell and a host of Mavericks stuffed Pierce short of the goal line and momentum looked to be swinging in Milford’s favor.
But on the Mavs’ next drive in Hartland territory, Noah Castillo forced a fumble by Milford’s David Onofrio, which was then recovered by Bain at the Hartland 29-yard line.
The Eagles next possession would carry over to the fourth quarter and Bain would atone for his earlier miss by kicking a 30-yard field goal to give Hartland a 10-7 lead.
The wheels started to come off for Milford on its next drive when Larson stumbled onto his knee on a third-down play deep in his own territory and then kicked a bad punt out of bounds at the Milford 29-yard line.
Four plays later, Stephen Milarch threw a 6-yard touchdown to Anthony Villar, putting Hartland up by 9 before missing the extra point.
Milford tried to cut into Hartland’s lead on its next possession, driving from its own 22-yard line to the Hartland 9 thanks in part to two Larson passes to Jonathon Schwartz of 37 yards and 32 yards.
However, Brandon Williams and Anthony Dawson would each drop a pass in the end zone and Milford would then turn the ball over on downs with just over 3 minutes left in the fourth.
From there, Hartland was able to run out the clock and celebrate a victory in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.
Milford had won its last two meetings with the Eagles and the last six matchups have been decided by an average of 6 points.
Larson had 14 rushes for 78 yards and completed 6-of-15 passes for 125 yards, while Schwartz had six receptions for 125 yards.
Pierce led Hartland with 163 yards rushing on the night.
Milford will be on the road on Friday, Sept. 21, to take on Brighton, the defending KLAA West co-champion who also finds itself at 1-3 and 0-2 in the West.
The winner will hold onto hope of reaching six wins and clinching an automatic state playoff berth, while the other team will find itself needing to win out the season and hope to qualify for the post-season tournament on playoff points.