Thanks to seniors Collin Thomas and Ben Rakers, they might be drinking milk until the sun comes up on Saturday morning at Central High School’s Robert Ashroth Field.
It was Thomas and Rakers who seemingly came up with big play after big play on Friday night, to help lead Central to a thrilling 46-35 victory over Mater Dei in the 40th annual Milk Bowl.
The victory was just the ninth in the series for the Cougars, who improved to 5-0 with the win. It also was their first win over the Knights on their home field since 1988.
“I want all of you to go out and gather up all the milk you can find in Clinton County and bring it back here,” exhorted Central coach Brandon Short to his team and fans after the victory, “because we’re going to have a milk party back here that’s going to last all night long.”
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Thomas carried the ball 26 times for 221 yards in the contest and scored six touchdowns. Rakers rushed for 106 yards and scored a touchdown on a 47-yard interception return in the third quarter.
“This is big. We have not won the Milk Bowl in a while,” said Thomas, who scored on runs of 3 and 1 yards in the first half and 2, 9, 69 and 47 yards in the final two quarters. “It was great to go out there and pick it up (the Milk Bowl trophy). They’re a great team. They work hard just like we do. We just wanted it a little bit more.”
Rakers also got off three punts which had important implications.
Two of them pinned Mater Dei deep in its own territory and helped Central grab an early 9-0 lead.
A third punt bounced off the leg of a Mater Dei up man and was recovered by the Cougars, setting up a third-quarter touchdown run by Thomas.
“I just went out there making plays where I could,” said Rakers, who also converted two long runs on fake punts that led to first downs on what turned out to be scoring drives. “Collin and I weren’t going to let us lose. He is a helluva runner. He was not going to go down and neither was I. This is something we’ve been trying to do our whole lives.”
The loss was the third straight for Mater Dei (2-3), having fallen to Althoff and Mount Carmel the previous two weeks.
“We got outplayed; we got outcoached,” said Mater Dei coach Jim Steibel. “We had turnovers early. We did not show up until the fourth quarter. We were lucky to be in that ballgame.”
Trailing since Central jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first quarter, Mater Dei drew even at 28-28, when quarterback Collin Schuetz hit Lucas Theising on a 15-yard touchdown pass with 5:38 to go.
But Thomas made sure it didn’t stay tied long, breaking loose on the second play of their ensuing possession with a 69-yard scoring run on which there was nothing but open space after he shook off a Mater Dei linebacker.
“I just put my head down and kept my legs churning,” said Thomas.
Less than a minute later, Rakers was in the end zone, anticipating a Schuetz pass into the flat and bring it back 47 yards, putting the Cougars back up 40-28.
“I caught the ball and it felt like Madden, where you catch the ball and you spin around,” said Rakers. “I jumped the route and picked it off. After that, there was no one in front of me.”
Mater Dei would not go away, Schuetz capping a drive with a 41-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Timmerman, pulling his team back within 40-35.
But Central recovered the onside kick.
Three plays later, Thomas was in the end zone again, this time from 46 yards out, this score sealing the fate of the Knights.
“These kids were just not going to lose,” said Short. “Collin is just a warrior. So many times, I asked him tonight if we wanted to come out. He kept on saying, ‘no way.’
“Both Collin and Ben are playmakers. I just can’t say enough about what they bring to this football team.”
Schuetz did all he could to keep Mater Dei in the game. The senior quarterback completed 17 of 32 passes for 251 yards with three touchdowns and the one interception. He also rushed for 84 yards, including a 12-yard scoring run in the third quarter.
Central downed a Rakers punt at the Mater Dei 6-yard line following the opening possession of the game.
It led to the game’s first points, when the Cougars were granted a safety after Schuetz was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone.
Another deep punt by Rakers, this time it was downed at the 2-yard line, led to Central’s second score.
Following a punt that had Central taking over on Mater Dei’s side of the field, a 38-yard run by Rakers put the ball at the Mater Dei 6-yard line.
That set the stage for Thomas’ first touchdown of the game.