EAST SWANZEY – When Milford’s Ben Fulham broke out of the pack and strode down to the Monadnock one-inch line on only the second play from scrimmage, the Spartans couldn’t believe it.
A quick start? Really?
Prior to Saturday’s 27-16 Division IV final win against top-seed Monadnock, Milford coach Keith Jones’ squad had consistently failed to do much in the first half of any game. In their regular-season matchup, a 14-7 Huskies win, Monadnock handled the Spartans easily in the first. Milford fumbled a half-dozen times and stalled any chance of productivity.
But Jones wanted his team to snap out of that early-quarter funk they were in against a team consisting of giant linemen, talented quarterback Josh Grover and a stacked offense that could take a game over in no time.
“It was nice to go boom, boom, boom,” Jones said.
Fulham’s 59-yard run did that. The senior transfer from Nashoba Regional High School in Massachusetts, in only his first season as a Spartan, broke a few tackles, stayed to the eastern side of the right hash mark and then cut toward the middle of the field to try to avoid his green-and-white clad pursuers.
With that maneuver, he trekked into the muddy expanse stripped between the hashes from goal line to goal line and slipped, allowing Monadnock defensive back Ryan Redfield to gain an extra step.
Fulham, a converted split end, decided to apply a stiff arm to Redfield’s chest but missed and _inadvertently tangled with the DB’s facemask, with Redfield eventually winning the battle short of the end zone.
“I dove about an inch short,” Fulham said.
Two plays later, Milford running back Andrew Hill went through the left side of the pile for the team’s first touchdown. More importantly that quick start that had eluded the Spartans was underway.
“I’m glad we have (Fulham)” Jones said. “I definitely thank Nashoba Regional for that one.
“He was the new kid on the block this year,” Jones continued. “But he meshed with the kids right away.”
Fulham compiled 138 yards on 18 carries, with 98 of those yards in the first quarter and credits much of the between-the-tackles yardage to his linemen.
“They just kept opening holes,” he said. “They do such a great job.”
In the second quarter, he caught a nine-yard pass from quarterback Paul Jepson, then helped the Spartans to the 10 and put the team in position for a sprawling Tom Mahoney touchdown catch and a 14-0 lead.
“They out-played us in the early going,” Monadnock coach Brian Pickering said. “That first score really meant a lot.”
On top of everything, Fulham’s early dominance opened things up for Milford’s passing game. When Jepson wasn’t throwing the Monadnock defense began to key on Fulham, giving the other Spartans’ backs the chance to showcase their games, evident by Jeff Mack’s 68 yards and Jepson’s multi-dimensional attack gaining 81 ground yards on 11 carriers.
Not to be forgotten was his 17-yard kick return on the very first play of the game to give Milford a decent start at the 38. His special-team heroics continued early on, with a punt return of 35 yards to the Monadnock 35 with began the march to Mahoney’s TD snag.
“He’s always been the big-play guy,” Jones said. “We knew if he was a quarterback (at Nashoba) in a Division I Massachusetts division then he must be a good player.”