DECATUR -- There won't be any complaining in the Nicco Stepina and Jordan Smith household.

The quarterback-receiver duo, who are also roommates, connected three times Thursday night for 59 yards and three touchdowns in Millikin's season-opening 76-3 rout of Greenville at Frank M. Lindsay Field.

Everything went right for the Big Blue.

On Greenville's first play from scrimmage, Matt Brown recovered a fumble for Millikin and things fell into place from there.

“Once we got three three-and-outs we kept going," junior defensive lineman Quintaz Wright said. "The first possession we forced a fumble and once that happened we just took off."

Millikin couldn't punch the ball in on the ensuing possession, but scored on its next eight offensive possessions. 

Greenville didn't have an answer for the high-octane offense of the Big Blue. Millikin ran 84 yards from scrimmage and racked up 602 yards of offense, but only had the ball for 27 minutes, 10 seconds.

Simply put, Stepina had the offense rolling. The junior quarterback from Casey-Westfield was 23-32 for 306 yards and seven touchdowns, breaking the previous school record of six he set last season.

“We had a good game plan coming out," Stepina said. "We executed well. My dudes did a lot for me tonight, obviously. They took the ball in for most of my touchdowns. The line blocked really well. The only time I got hit tonight was when I put myself in trouble. Everything was clicking."

The offense was the recipient of good field possession thanks to a defensive front seven that held the Greenville offense in check, allowing just 68 rushing yards.

Isaiah Blumenshine recorded 5.5 tackles, 1.5 sacks and blocked a punt to lead the defense, and the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Wright added three tackles and a sack.

Millikin started in its own territory three times.

The Panthers mustered just 97 yards in the first half and 141 for the game, while playing against the Millikin second unit on defense for the better part of the second half.

Greenville didn't cross midfield until midway through the third quarter and only moved the chains one time in the first half.

“Once we got a good five or six three (and outs) in, I knew what we could do and we were all locked in and focused," Wright said.

Stepina, and backup quarterback Marcus Hayes spread the ball to 12 different receivers, but it came back to the Stepina to the 6-4, 195-pound Smith out of Shelbyville combination and was capped off by a 48-yard bomb in the second quarter to give the Big Blue a 34-0 lead.

“They have great chemistry. I think also it's Jordan recognizing -- we call him the freak because he's an athletic freak -- how much of a freak he is and saying, 'OK, you're not good enough to cover me.' I think that will help in his continued development," Millikin coach Dan Gritti said.

Joey's Takes

Playing with heavy hearts

Millikin had no shortage of motivation to open the season. The Big Blue were playing in honor of sophomore David Jackson who died tragically earlier this month stemming from a near-drowning in his home state of Missouri.

At the pregame meeting of captains, Wright and junior Nikia Averitte carried a No. 18 jersey to the center of the field in honor of their receiver. Cheerleaders donned shirts with Jackson and No. 18 on the back.

"We've got heavy hearts," Smith said. "Everybody played together as a team and we all did it."

For Gritti, the game was a welcomed break from the tragedy that had been weighing on the team.

“We wanted to honor David's memory by coming out here and playing like we knew he wanted us to do and (David's twin brother) Daniel had an unbelievable game as the quarterback of our defense," Gritti said. "We are able to be more complicated this year because he gets us into the right tracks.

"The football field is really our refuge where we can focus on one thing and forget the world and forget about the loss for a brief moment. David is never far from our minds and as a result we were glad we could honor him tonight."

Running back domination

There was no shortage of capable running backs for Millikin. Though Stepina led the team in rushing with 60 yards, Deonte Robinson, Jazonte Howard, and George Jimerson, Jr. each took turns carrying the load for Millikin. Rashid Macklin took over the duties with the second unit after halftime and found the end zone twice.

Each brings something different. Howard is the elusive back, Jimerson, Jr. will bulldoze opponents and Robinson is a mix of the two.

While the trio give defenses fits, they also push each other.

“The competition between all of them made them all better," Gritti said. "They know if they take a play off or they don't do something the other guy is going to take it over for them.”

Welcome to the show

First-year kicker Ben Spelman is hardly easy to overlook on the field. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound kicker from Ireland joined the team and also plays soccer at Millikin. 

He was a perfect 10-for-10 on extra points, with most booming through the uprights by 20 yards.

The senior also didn't give the Panthers many chances to return, forcing four touchbacks.

Somehow, he may not be the best kicker Gritti has coached. At Middlebury College, he coached Steven Hauschka, the 11-year NFL vet currently playing for the Buffalo Bills.

Still, Spelman's skill set is a welcomed sight for Gritti.

“Ben is a soccer player who is from Ireland and can kick the ball a mile and we're excited to have him," Gritti said. 


Sports Writer

Sports writer for the Herald & Review.

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