Coming off a lopsided loss in last year's Class 2A state final, Eastern Tech was intent on beginning this football season on a strong note.
Facing Milford Mill on Friday night, however, the No. 7 Mavericks needed until the final minutes of a seesaw game to truly hit a fever pitch.
After nearly blowing a two-touchdown lead, Eastern Tech scored 20 straight points in the final 4:21 to put away the Millers, 33-12, at CCBC-Essex. The Mavericks (1-0) now have won 27 of their past 29 games.
"There's always going to be people that doubt us and spectators who aren't on our side, so it's a good thing that we come out and play strong," sophomore tailback Marquiese Bannister said.
Bannister played a major role, rushing for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
It was teammate Emmanuel Gbor who made the game's biggest play, however. With Eastern Tech leading 13-12, the junior fullback mishandled a kickoff, picked the ball up at the 20, broke a tackle and raced 80 yards down the sideline for the score.
"Sometimes it's talent. I don't know how much coaching really went into that," Eastern Tech coach Marc Mesaros said. "He's a special kid. He made a play when we needed it."
Milford Mill (0-1), a Class 3A North finalist last season, hurt its own cause, leaving points on the board with a missed field goal and a pair of missed extra points, including one that would have tied the game with 4:37 left.
Milford controlled the game early, driving 63 yards on their opening possession,including passes of 21, 14 and 13 yards from quarterback Kyle McEachern to speedy Tyrek Cheeseboro. But the Millers failed to capitalize. After Miguel Bernard's 32-yard field goal was waived off for illegal motion, Bernard pushed his 37-yard try wide right.
The miss proved to be an emotional boost for the Mavericks, who took the lead early in the second quarter, when Bannister took a handoff at his 20, burst through a stacked line and sprinted 80 yards up the middle for a touchdown.