Milford’s Cameron Kells (28) is pursued by Fairfield’s Del Thomas (54) and Elijah Hatfield (26) on Friday night in Milford. The host Eagles rallied for a 39-35 victory in a Division I, Region 4 playoff opener. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Prep football: Milford’s huge rally stuns Fairfield in playoff opener

MILFORD — Jason Krause called his Fairfield High School football team’s playoff loss Friday possibly the worst of his entire career. Milford coach Tom Grippa said it was the biggest win in school history for his Eagles.

Fairfield gave up 32 unanswered points in the second half and let what would have been its first playoff win since 2000 slip away as the Eagles (9-2) pulled ahead with 1:28 left for a 39-35 win Friday in a Division I, Region 4 quarterfinal at Milford Stadium.

The Indians (7-4), who have lost seven straight postseason games, opened the third quarter with two touchdowns in the first 40 seconds to extend their lead to 35-7, but injuries to two of the team’s top offensive players and four turnovers proved costly as they self-destructed down the stretch.

WEEK 11 FOOTBALL COVERAGE

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» Nick Graham’s photo gallery from Fairfield-Milford

» Defense powers Fenwick in playoff-opening win over CJ

» East earns postseason upset, ousts GMC rival Mason

» Nick Graham’s photo gallery from Lakota East-Mason

» LM sinks Edgewood with fourth-quarter playoff rally

“That’s probably the worst loss I’ve been a part of as a player or a coach,” Krause said. “I thanked the seniors for … what they’ve done for the program and where we’re at. We had a lot of things go bad tonight, injuries, losing key players at times. I told our underclassmen our goal was to win a playoff game, and we still fell short.

“We have to get back to work. It can’t just be something we want to do. I’m tired of saying we’ve been to the playoffs five times in the last six years. It sounds like a broken record, but give Milford credit. They kept playing and didn’t quit. We had four turnovers in the second half, some untimely penalties and we just fell apart.”

JuTahn McClain broke his hand on the opening drive, depriving Fairfield of the school’s single-season touchdown record holder for most of the game, but the Indians managed to score 35 points without him. It wasn’t until quarterback Jeff Tyus exited late in the third quarter that McClain returned, as the Indians needed a spark offensively at that point.

Milford chipped away at the lead and made it a two-point game when Dylan Hughes was left wide open in the end zone for a 35-yard catch with 4:07 remaining, but Fairfield got enough pressure on quarterback Hunter Johnson to prevent the two-point conversion and the tide seemed to shift when McClain ran the next play from scrimmage 70 yards to get to the Eagles’ 15-yard line.

Fairfield’s Michael Ampofo-Mensah tries to get away from Milford’s Lucas Bowling (41) on Friday night in Milford. The host Eagles recorded a 39-35 win in a Division I, Region 4 playoff opener. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Two plays later, backup quarterback Sawiaha Ellis was picked off and the Eagles easily moved down the field for the game-winning score. Milford sealed it by intercepting Ellis as Fairfield moved across midfield with 1:02 left.

“We had to try to produce offense, so I talked to him and he wanted to go,” Krause said of McClain’s return. “He just couldn’t run with the cast on his hand — it was a long run, but if he doesn’t have a big old cast on his arm, he probably finishes that run for a touchdown. We turned the ball over two plays later.”

Grippa said there wasn’t any big adjustment in the second half — his team just played a bad first half, and the Indians were making plays even without their star running back.

Fairfield’s Peyton Brown scored the first two touchdowns, including a 45-yard pass from Tyus for a 14-7 lead in the second quarter, and Erick All ran a fake punt 44 yards to make it a two-score lead going into halftime.

Coming back out for the third quarter, it looked like the Indians were putting the game away. Hajiere Pitts returned the kickoff to the 1-yard line and Tyus ran it in the next play, and 19 seconds later Fairfield scored again. Jaydan Mayes intercepted Johnson on the next play from scrimmage and returned it to the end zone, where he fumbled and Elijah Hatfield landed on it for the touchdown and a 35-7 lead with 11:20 left in the period.

Fairfield’s JuTahn McClain carries the ball during Friday night’s 39-35 loss at Milford in a Division I, Region 4 playoff game. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

From there, it fell apart. Tyus lost a fumble on a strip sack by C.T. Phillips and Michael Ampofo-Mensah, who was getting his first significant carries in McClain’s absence, fumbled on the next drive. Milford scored on its last four drives.

Johnson torched Fairfield’s defense with 381 yards passing and three touchdowns, and Cameron Kells had 107 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries to lead the Eagles.

“That’s the biggest comeback in my coaching history,” said Grippa, who was the last Fairfield coach to win a playoff game. “It wasn’t just offense. It was our defense getting stops. We had two interceptions, a strip we converted to a score — it was a great team win. The biggest one in Milford football history.”

Milford advances to meet top-ranked Colerain in a regional semifinal next Friday at a neutral site.

Fairfield 7-14-14-0—35

Milford 7-0-14-18—39

F: Peyton Brown 4 run (Elgin Phillips)

M: Connor Foster 3 pass from Hunter Johnson (Grace Ertel kick)

F: Brown 45 pass from Jeff Tyus (Phillips kick)

F: Erick All 44 run (Phillips kick)

F: Tyus 1 run (Phillips kick)

F: Elijah Hatfield recovered fumble in end zone (Phillips kick)

M: Cameron Kells 1 run (Ertel kick)

M: Dylan Hughes 23 pass from Johnson (Ertel kick)

M: Kells 3 run (Kick failed)

M Hughes 35 pass from Johnson (Run failed)

M: Kells 1 run (Pass failed)

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