Daunte Mills doesn’t have much of an issue admitting it: His playoff experience is limited. Including two years on the Fremont High football team in 2006 and 2007, Mills hasn’t reached the postseason since Pop Warner.
As unfamiliar to the playoff stage as he was, the Central Coast Barnstormers’ running back wasn’t hindered during Saturday’s Pacific Coast Football League first round game at Anzar High’s Barragan Field.
Mills scored a game-high three touchdowns to lead the Barnstormers to a 42-35 victory over the South Bay Stallions, sending the local semi-pro football team to the second round.
Despite beating the Stallions 42-6 in April, Saturday’s game was a back-and-forth affair, which forced the Barnstormers to come back from double digit deficits twice. Behind Mills and quarterback Will Kilday, no lead was too large though.
In his first year playing semi-pro football, Mills took the game one play at a time and leaned on his teammates for support, he said. And that attitude worked for the 23 year old.
“I’m feeling great,” he said. “I’ve got a great squad around me. It’s great support. My linemen – I’ve never had a line like this before. Actually, this is my first year playing semi-pro and so far I love it. The atmosphere is crazy. We just come together as a family. It’s different. It’s competitive.”
Mills ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns on six carries – most of it coming in the second half. Through the air, Mills caught two balls for 90 yards and a touchdown.
The entire Barnstormers’ offense, though, started slow, dropping passes and failing to block. But as the game continued, Mills and running back Derrick Morrison started to find holes, scoring all 42 points in the game’s final three quarters.
“We battled a little adversity with ourselves,” head coach Jeff Parsley said. “We dropped some passes in the beginning, but we battled back and we’ve got to give them credit. They really came out and fought back.”
Kilday went 17 of 29 for 261 yards, four touchdowns and one interception to control the Barnstormers offense.
At the beginning, the Barnstormers started passive. Kilday and the offense moved into Stallions territory before stalling, giving the ball quickly to South Bay. The Stallions’ responded by taking four plays to go 60 yards to grab a 7-0 lead.
South Bay added six more points after a Barnstormers’ turnover to hold a 13-0 lead after the first quarter. Afterward, though, the Barnstormers’ offense started to gain big chunks of yards.
Central Coast got on the board on a 21-yard pass from Kilday to tight end Will Lawrence at the start of second quarter.
The Barnstormers, eventually, grabbed their first lead with 20 seconds left in the first half on a 20-yard pass between Kilday and Lawrence. The tight end leapt in the end zone and caught the high pass while falling backward.
The lead didn’t last long for the Barnstormers as the Stallions once again jumped ahead to start the third quarter and built a 32-21 cushion.
“Games like this keep the blood flowing,” owner and offensive lineman Jose Rodriguez said. “There are highs and lows. We were down right away, then we take the lead and then we are down again. It’s just adversity. It’s life, and when things don’t go your way, you get something out of it. That’s why I play, to be honest. Nobody wants to come out here and see a 60-0 blowout.”
The Barnstormers scored the game’s next 21 points to take control.
The close game, though, was why the players – some who played only high school football – spend at least three days a week playing tackle football.
“I’m really happy to have this type of game instead of blowing someone out,” safety Lance Goularte said. “This is exactly the feeling we play for. This feeling right here. Walking off the field bruised and hurting but we got a victory. And it’s worth it.”
Playing for the Barnstormers isn’t just about winning but it’s about experiencing competition again, Rodriguez said.
“We play because we love the game, everyone pays to be a part of this team,” he said. “The coaches volunteer. We have to scrape to find fields. It’s not the best of facilities. Our families are out here. This is what people like to do. We can play baseball, softball and basketball but to play tackle football … you can only do it for so long. Most people after college don’t make it to the big leagues, so they are done. So it’s good to put the pads on and release some stress. This is our sport.”
The Barnstormers’ season continues at 6 p.m. Saturday at Monterey Trail High School in Elk Grove. The Barnstormers (9-3) will face the Roseville Bears (9-2).