By Frank Dimon
For The Daily Item
MILTON — Mifflinburg’s Devin Hendrix stood at midfield on the Alumni Field turf cradling a nearly empty Clinger Lumber Tomato Bowl trophy late Friday night. The celebratory tomatoes gone — stolen by his jubilant teammates moments earlier — it was the only time Hendrix came up empty in the 37th edition of gridiron kickoff to Milton’s Harvest Festival.
Forced into action at quarterback when the Wildcats regular starter, Jordan Wagner, came up with a gimpy shoulder after scoring a fourth quarter touchdown, Hendrix completed eight passes in the last 4 minutes and 25 seconds of the game and engineered a pair of unlikely scoring drives for a miraculous 38-34 victory.
After the Black Panthers seemed to take control of the Heartland Athletic Conference-I meeting when Josh Brown’s two-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal and Brady Chappell’s subsequent two-point conversion pass to Greg Shultz handed Milton its largest lead of the game at 34-23.
That’s when Hendrix seemed to throw a Friday the 13th curse on the Milton secondary. Starting at this own 45, Hendrix led a 12-play march connecting on a pair of third passes plus one on a fourth-and-10.
The drive ended thanks to Hendrix’ running ability, though, when he bulled through the Milton defense for a six-yard touchdown with 1:25 remaining in the game and his pass to Brett Luhrman cut the Black Panthers lead to 34-31.
But two plays after the kickoff, Chappell toss to Brown went off his helmet and was recovered by Logan Finsterbush at Black Panthers 44.
After misfiring on his first pass, Hendrix connected with Finsterbush for a 39-yard completion down the Mifflinburg (2-1, 2-1 HAC-I)sideline to the Milton 5. After losing a yard on a running attempt, he connected with Patrick Crissman at the goal line for the winner.
"When I came in, I made it clear that we had to keep our heads up," Hendrix said. "Our team, we don’t give up."
The Mifflinburg defense stopped the desperate Black Panthers in the final two plays of the game.
"Jordan took a big shot to the shoulder on that touchdown," said Wildcats coach Jason Dressler. "We had to make the switch. We practice that two minute drill every practice. The kids just did not quit. We talk about execution, we talk about determination and things didn’t go right for much of the game but boy did they step up when it mattered. They made the plays."
Milton (1-2, 0-2) carried a 12-10 lead into halftime when scoring runs by Jayson English (79 yards) and Brown (1 yard) countered a 26-yard field goal by Luhrman and a 56-yard burst by Tanner Bingaman.
Mifflinburg recaptured the lead at 16-12 four minutes into the third quarter when Wagner hit Finsterbush with a 62-yard touchdown pass. But the Black Panthers answered with an efficient 13-play drive covering 74 yards and grabbed back the lead when Brown ran in from four yards late quarter.
Jovan Garrison broke a 38-yard run for a score less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.
But four Milton turnovers — two fumbles and two interceptions — wasted another spectacular Black Panthers rushing attack that totaled 397 yards behind English (197 yards), Brown (100) and Garrison (104)