SPRINGFIELD – Meet the Millers, a team that had three wins in 2021. Friday, they beat the visiting Crater Comets 33-15, a score that raised eyebrows around the state as Springfield moved to 2-1 on the season with a game against arch-rival Thurston looming only two weeks away.
This year’s returning players have paid their dues, and their coach said it’s their hard work that is paying off.
“I’m excited about the results tonight, but I’m more excited about how they attacked Monday through Thursday, which is what we talked about last week, and the process of the week led to tonight,” said Miles Haley, Springfield head coach. “But really, really happy and really proud of the guys that they got to put forth their best effort today.”
Springfield was led largely by its juniors, including quarterback Caeleb Kasperek, running back Connor Dye and Jackson Babbitt, who plays wide receiver and defensive back. The players are among those who won 7th- and 8th-grade football titles in middle school together, and are blossoming at the high school level today under Haley’s mentorship.
The Millers came out quickly Friday, getting the opening kickoff and driving 80 yards for a score. The drive was led by Kasperek and Dye. Dye rushed for 26 yards, while Kasperek used his arm and legs as he threw for 25 yards and punched in the opening score on a 4-yard run to make it 7-0 Millers five minutes into the game. Babbitt would then intercept a pass on Crater’s first possession, the first of two interceptions he had.
Kasperek, Dye and Babbitt were three players that Haley knew would need to step up if the Millers were going to compete, and they’ve stepped up big-time so far.
“Those guys have handled the expectations we put on them really well. They’re confident guys, and that’s kind of where it starts, is they believe in themselves,” Haley said. “I’m proud of those guys. They’re great athletes, and we’re gonna keep getting them the ball in space for sure.”
Crater would put together two solid scoring drives, and took the lead 15-13 early in the third quarter. Springfield would prove too much for the Comets however, as the Millers controlled the tempo of the game with their rushing attack and by causing turnovers. Springfield won the turnover battle by a whopping plus-5 margin, while its running game racked up 209 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries.
Two of those touchdown runs were by Dye, and one was by Kasperek, who also threw for 113 yards and two touchdowns. On defense, Babbitt had two of the Millers’ four interceptions and accounted for 62 yards of offense. The toughness of the Millers showed, and it’s something they plan to lean on this season, their coach said.
“We always want to be aggressive. We have tough kids here, and so we want those guys flying around,” Haley said. “I think this was as physical as we’ve been all year, and I think it’s really something to build on.”
After going down 15-13 in the third quarter, Springfield drove the ball 75 yards and scored on a throw on 4th-and-15. Kasperek connected with senior Dwayne Fotta for the 22-yard score and Springfield took the lead 20-15 with two minutes left in the third.
Two interceptions and a Comet turnover-on-downs would eventually allow the Millers to run away with it, icing the game on a 2-yard touchdown run by Dye.
Springfield (2-1) heads to South Eugene (1-2) next week and will look to continue with its early-season momentum before facing off against cross-town rival Thurston on Sept. 30. These juniors know what it’s like to face the Colts, who beat the Millers 58-0 last season on their way to a third straight state final appearance.
The Millers will seek to avenge that loss, and prove that this season, the Midwestern League crown rests on their heads. To do that, they’ll need everything this junior class has, and more.
Millers Top Performers:
Caeleb Kasperek: 8/17, 113 yards, 2 TDS, 13 rushes, 70 yards, 1 TD; Connor Dye: 23 rushes, 89 yards, 2 TDs; Jackson Babbitt: 3 catches, 55 yards, 2 INTS on defense; Dwayne Fotta: 2 catches, 26 yards, 1 TD; Zack Sherman:1 catch, 13 yards, 1 TD; Julian Gomez and Hyban Garcia: 1 INT each