BROOKLINE, Mass. – Together they formed an unstoppable gridiron duo.
The Milton Academy senior running back – a proven ground gainer capable of wearing down opposing defenses and the reigning Independent School League MVP – amassed 205 rushing yards on 25 carries that included four second-half touchdowns. And, despite a hamstring injury that sidelined him in the Mustangs season finale and nearly relegated him to decoy status against Dexter School, he committed only one miscue: a fumble on the second play from scrimmage.
The other – an upstart sophomore identified early in the season by Milton’s 18-year head coach Kevin MacDonald as ‘special’ – positively dominated the air attack on both sides of the ball. He contributed four catches for 87 yards on offense and two interceptions defensively, production that netted him three touchdowns overall.
On Saturday afternoon, this tandem, otherwise known as Drew Jacobs and Domenic Cozier, provided the collective punch necessary to propel Milton to a 62-18 victory over host Dexter in the Tom Flaherty New England Championship Bowl game.
“We have more confidence and swagger when he’s out there,” said MacDonald of Jacobs’ questionable status. “He fumbled the first one. He literally had maybe taken one handoff in practice.
“I thought this was maybe just going to be a ceremonial thing where he got a few snaps and then we put somebody else in. So I was shocked when he actually did what he did. That was pure guts.”
As for Jacobs’ heir apparent, Cozier, MacDonald was far less surprised with the underclassman’s breakout performance.
“He had an unbelievable game,” said MacDonald of the sophomore. “I’ve said all year that I think he’s a special player because he never gives up and he’s super athletic. He can sky. He runs a four-five forty, he’s got a 39-inch vertical (and) he’s just a very athletic kid. Plus, he has a terrific attitude.
“Maybe we’ve underutilized him a little bit this year, but today he just didn’t allow us to underutilize him. He made plays.”
TURNING POINT: With Milton leading 27-12 at the half, Dexter received the kickoff to start the second-half. On the second play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Luke Cuneo hit senior wide receiver Mark Webber for what appeared to be a short gain along the right sideline. But Webber wrestled through four arm tackles and raced 72 yards for what turned out to be a 78-yard touchdown only 50 seconds into the frame.
It was a play that seemed to awaken Milton and, in particular, Jacobs.
“I was pissed when they scored,” he admitted. “We all were.”
The response from Milton was emphatic. The Mustangs – behind three touchdown runs by Jacobs – reeled off 28 unanswered third quarter points to turn a 27-18 advantage into a 55-18 blowout 11:10 later.
Jacobs ripped off scoring runs of 35, 18 and 10 yards using a series of stutter steps and cutbacks to evade defenders. And while his trademark burst wasn’t there given his lingering hamstring woes, the senior displayed know-how to be productive even with his health at less than 100 percent.
“The line in the second half,” he explained,” those holes were huge. Coach (Paul) Healey said, ‘Anybody could have run through those holes in the second half.’
“I started slow. I was a little nervous about the hamstring. But it felt good towards the end.”
And sandwiched in between Jacobs’ first and second touchdown was Cozier’s pick-six, a play in which he corralled the interception off a deflection and zigzagged 38 yards for a touchdown that gave the Mustangs a 41-18 lead with 6:58 left in the third quarter.
Jacobs went on to add a fourth touchdown on a three-yard, which effectively closed out the scoring, midway through the fourth quarter.
HE’S ONLY A SOPH-O-MORE!: While Jacobs carried the load over the final 24 minutes, Cozier’s first-half play was paramount in keeping the Mustangs competitive.
After Dexter scored by way of a Luke Cuneo three-yard draw on its first possession – a drive set up at midfield by Jacobs’ fumble – to take a 6-0 lead, Cozier hauled in a 45-yard touchdown pass that included 25 yards after the catch, which he gained using a collection of spin moves, jump cuts and head fakes to outmaneuver Dexter’s secondary.
“We watched film on them and they couldn’t really control the pass,” he said. “So we had a game plan of just throwing over a lot . . . the post wheel, and we got it.”
Cozier’s second touchdown reception was even more impressive.
With Milton clinging to a 13-12 lead halfway through the second quarter after Cuneo connected with C.J. Okafor for a 51-yard scoring strike, Cozier made an acrobatic 22-yard catch along the right sideline of the end zone in which he turned and out-jumped two defenders. His deft body control somehow kept him inbounds when he landed from his jump.
On the whole, Cozier’s performance had more than just his coach raving.
“Dom played unbelievable,” Jacobs said. “I think he was the MVP. That’s who you should be interviewing.”
COSTLY MISCUES: Lost amidst the dominant performances of Jacobs and Cozier were the mistakes made by Dexter.
In addition to Cozier’s pick-six in the third quarter, Dexter also had both a blocked punt and strip sack returned for touchdowns.
The blocked punt occurred with 4:18 left in the first quarter when deep in its own territory, Milton’s Ethan Webster-Zinn deflected the punt at Dexter’s 10-yard line and teammate Matthew Morin scooped up the ball and rumbled into the end zone.
Trailing 20-12, Dexter again committed a turnover which resulted in points.
With time winding down in the first half, Milton’s Morin broke through the defensive line and flushed Cuneo to his right. As Morin pulled Dexter’s QB to the ground the ball popped out. In one fluid motion, Milton’s Sean Sylva grabbed the ball and raced 51 yards for the score and a 27-12 lead with 53.2 seconds left.
“That’s a great team over there,” said Dexter coach Casey Day of Milton. “They capitalized on every mistake that we made today and that’s what champions do.”
HISTORICAL SUCCESS: In MacDonald's tenure, Milton, which finished the season with an 8-1 record, has established itself as a perennial NEPSAC football power.
On Saturday, MacDonald picked up his third bowl win in his 18 years leading the Mustangs program, and first since 2008. Milton also captured a title back in MacDonald’s inaugural season (1996) coaching in the ISL.
Meanwhile, Dexter (7-2), which is only in its 11th season competing at the varsity level, reached a bowl for the first time in school history.
And while only one school received the Tom Flaherty New England Championship Bowl, the success of the upstart, albeit defeated, program was not lost on either coach.
“Casey’s done a great job with that program,” MacDonald said. “They’ve probably played football for 10 years or less. And to get to a New England Championship game . . . he’s really got some athletes. I think he’s really just done a tremendous job. Things just went our way today.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys,” Day said. “Things didn’t turn out how we wanted them to today. But we have an unbelievable group of seniors that got us to this point. I tip my cap to those guys. They’ve built this program basically from the bottom. When they were freshmen we were at the bottom of the barrel and now we’re up near the top.”
MILTON 62, DEXTER 18
M - 13 - 14 - 28 - 7 --- 62
D - 6 - 6 - 6 - 0 --- 18
D - Luke Cuneo 3 run (pass failed) 9:47
M - Domenic Cozier 41 pass from Anthony Scurto (kick failed) 5:08
M - Matthew Morin 10 blocked punt return (Jaejung Joon kick) 4:18
D - C.J. Okafor 51 pass from Cuneo (pass failed) 6:50
M - Cozier 22 pass from Scurto (Joon kick) 4:04
M - Sean Sylva 51 fumble return (Joon kick) :53.2
D - Mark Webber 78 pass Cuneo (pass failed) 11:10
M - Drew Jacobs 35 run (Joon kick) 7:47
M - Cozier 38 interception return (Joon kick) 6:58
M - Jacobs 18 run (Joon kick) 4:11
M - Jacobs 10 run (Joon kick) :24.6
M - Jacobs 3 run (Joon kick) 6:55