Patient Miller takes advantage of his chance

EVERETT — Josiah Miller wasn’t tired.

Not in the closing minute of the first half, and not even when the final whistle blew.

“I was fresh the whole game. I could play another one right now,” the recent star of the Oak Harbor High School football team said late Saturday afternoon, at the conclusion of the annual East-West All-Star Game at Everett Memorial Stadium. “Usually, by the end of these games, I’m huffing and puffing for air. But I feel good right now.”

That was quite a switch for Miller, who got used to expending all his energy carrying the Oak Harbor offense while also logging time on the Wildcats’ defense. But one thing that didn’t change during Saturday’s game was the starring role and big-play ability.

Thanks in part to some fresh legs, Miller turned in the first big offensive play and almost single-handedly turned the tables in a big West lead that eventually resulted in a 28-21 win.

While the two all-star teams slogged out a defensive battle for the most part of two quarters, Miller waited patiently for his time to strike. He knew that a “round” play — in the West offense, it’s a fake handoff to one wideout before quarterback Jake Nelson flipped the ball to Miller for a reverse-like sweep — was coming at some point and made it count when coach Gordon Elliott finally made the call a minute before halftime.

Miller, a running back who was lined up wide on the right sideline, took the pitch from Nelson and out-ran everyone down the left sideline for an 80-yard touchdown and the first points of the game. The touchdown gave the West team a 7-0 lead, an advantage that would eventually swell to 28-0 midway through the fourth quarter before the East team rallied with three scores in the final 6:16.

“It’s one thing to score, but when you bust it 80 yards, that gets everybody jacked up,” said West left tackle Cody Tupen, a Lake Stevens High graduate who provided one of the key blocks on the play. “That was cool.”

The West’s Elliott said he’d been saving the play for the right moment in the game, and the final minute of the first half seemed like an opportune moment to let Miller work his magic. The two teams had combined for six first downs and nine punts to that point, with neither team getting into the end zone. After a missed field goal by the East team left the ball at the West 20-yard line with 1:04 remaining in the first half of a scoreless game, Elliott decided to call Miller’s number.

“It had been pretty much a slugfest to that point — two great defenses — and I wanted to try to change the momentum a little bit,” said Elliott, an Auburn High coach who has used a similar play for two touchdowns in playoff games against Skyview and East coach Steve Kizer. “I knew that play would be a momentum-changer — if it worked; if it didn’t work, it’s a momentum-changer for them. But it happened to work, and I thought that was just the right time to do it.”

Miller, a speedy-but-small tailback who had just two carries for four yards up to that point, said the East defense sniffed out the play even before he got the ball but still couldn’t stop it.

“They knew exactly what we were doing,” said Miller, who credited Tupen and outside receiver Taggart Krueger of Skyline for making the key blocks on the play. “Right when Jake faked it, they were saying: ‘Reverse! Reverse!’ But it helps when you get good blocking.”

Despite his history of carrying the offensive load, Miller was able to patiently wait for his number to be called. He said that having fresh legs helped him out-run the defense, which was evident when he showed another gear in avoiding a charging safety near the East 40-yard line.

The touchdown helped wake two sleeping offenses and brought the crowd to its feet.

“I know the fans wanted to see a high-scoring game,” Miller said. “It was sluggish, and we knew that. Not only for ourselves, but for the fans too, we wanted to put a few points on the board.”

After the 80-yard burst, the West’s offense broke free and eventually built up a 28-0 lead.

“We gained some confidence” from the long touchdown, Miller said. “I think we came out here like: we’re going to smash them. (The East defenders) were bringing it to us every time. We couldn’t run up the middle, we couldn’t get outside, we couldn’t get any passes off.

“I think that play really boosted us up, and that’s when our offense really started working. It opened up the passing game.”

Miller finished with a game-high 98 yards on just five carries. More important, he had the run that mattered most.

“It’s great,” the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Central Washington University signee said of scoring the game’s first touchdown. “All I wanted to do was score just one touchdown, whether it was a 100-yard run or a 1-yard touchdown. Even getting the ball a couple times and showing what I could do was good enough for me. I just wanted to be out here playing for the last time.”

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