Game Of The Week — Pioneers, Colonels Renew Football Rivalry
Posted: October 23, 2015
By ROBERT NIEDZWIECKI
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — It’s always hard to tell exactly where the ball is when bodies upon bodies are piled up at the goal line, but Millbrook junior P.K. Kier feels like he broke the plane on his two-point conversion run against James Wood last year.
“It was up to the refs,” Kier said. “It didn’t go our way. We’ve been watching the film [of that game] every day, and it’s doing a lot for us. It’s really adding motivation for this week.”
The two combatants in one of the most thrilling games of the 2014 season renew their Northwestern District rivalry today, and there’s more than just local bragging rights at stake when they collide at 7 p.m. at James Wood’s Jerry L. Kelican Stadium.
With only 12 teams qualifying for the 4A West Region, Millbrook (5-2, 1-0 Northwestern) — rated ninth — needs a win to solidify its current hold on a playoff spot. James Wood (4-3, 0-2) — rated 18th — needs a win to move toward the top 12 spots in the ratings. (The Colonels were the No. 16 team on Monday, but changes to Liberty-Bealeton’s and Liberty Christian Academy’s ratings on Tuesday moved them ahead of James Wood.)
The Colonels grabbed the No. 11 seed in the 16-team 4A North Region playoffs with a 5-5 record last year, but they might have to win out to return to the playoffs this year.
And they might have to take the first step in that process without Tyler Bishop, the area’s leading rusher (1,234 yards, 15 TDs) and James Wood’s third-leading tackler (50). James Wood coach Mark McHale said Bishop is a game-time decision for tonight as a result of an injury suffered against Skyline last week.
With both teams so hungry for a win, the intensity should rival last year’s contest. Last year, Millbrook was 3-4 and rated 19th and James Wood was 3-5 and rated 20th when they met, and the Colonels’ 21-20 win moved them up to No. 14.
James Wood trailed 14-0 at the half before scoring 21 unanswered points. Kier scored on a three-yard TD run with 59 seconds left to make it 21-20 Colonels. The Pioneers elected to go for two points, but Kier was stopped inches short of the goal line on a run up the middle.
Millbrook coach Josh Haymore said, “we haven’t forgotten about it.” But he pointed out these two teams are both different from last year, and right now, the present is definitely a lot more important than the past.
Both teams are taking the same approach for the last three games.
“The guys understand how big this game is [for playoff prospects],” Haymore said. “We’ve got to win out.”
If history is any guide, tonight figures to be another tight game between these two Frederick County rivals. (James Wood leads the all-time series 7-5, and eight of the last 10 meetings have been decided by seven points or less.)
James Wood is looking to reverse its fortunes in close matchups. Sherando defeated the Colonels 14-10 two weeks ago after stopping James Wood on fourth-and-2 at the Warrior 25-yard line with 34 seconds left and Skyline knocked off James Wood 29-28 in overtime last week, with the Hawks electing to go for two points rather than the tie on the first possession of overtime.
Colonels quarterback Dade Carroll (48 of 74 for 704 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions) said James Wood is just trying to forget about last week.
But while the Colonels have moved on from the emotion of losing, they’re not forgetting they need to perform better. James Wood gave up 470 yards, and the Colonels committed 10 penalties for 70 yards.
“You can’t have [those penalties] in a close game,” said James Wood senior linebacker and running back Ryan Funkhouser. “When you’re always playing behind the chains, it messes you up.”
If the Colonels are forced to play without Bishop tonight, they’ll definitely need to be as efficient as possible on offense.
James Wood lost Bishop last week in the second quarter, and Funkhouser stepped up with six carries for 56 yards and a four-yard TD against the Hawks. Colonels coach Mark McHale said Funkhouser also had a long touchdown run called back because of a penalty.
McHale said he has a lot of faith in Funkhouser’s ability to carry a full workload. Even with his rushing duties, Funkhouser racked up 23 of his area-best 94 tackles against Skyline.
“He’s not the same kind of runner as [Bishop],” McHale said. “But he’s a bruiser, and he’s not afraid to hit you.”
Carroll said, “We’re going to keep going with our same game plan. If our line blocks well, I feel like we can run on anybody.”
Millbrook definitely has a stouter run defense this year. The Pioneers are allowing 114.9 yards per game on the ground compared to 210.2 last year. In a 20-14 win on Sept. 11, Millbrook held Clarke County’s vaunted single-wing rushing attack to 137 yards (the Eagles are averaging 366 rushing yards per game against their other six opponents).
First-year varsity player and sophomore inside linebacker Brandon Shingleton has had a lot to do with the Pioneers’ success. Shingleton isn’t imposing in terms of size (5 feet, 9 inches tall and 175 pounds), but Haymore said he’s loomed large (a team-high 80 tackles, which ranks third in the area) because of his intelligence and work ethic.
“He’s a good kid who watches a lot of film,” Haymore said. “He’s always studying. He always has a chance to get better when he steps out on the field. I had him as a student last year, and he’s like that in the classroom too. He’d come in and get extra help if he didn’t understand something. And he’s just a good leader to have around. He’s been more vocal this year.”
Just like James Wood, Millbrook’s last game was also against Skyline. The Pioneers beat the Hawks 59-14 two weeks ago, and shut out Skyline in the first half despite the Hawks having the ball in Millbrook territory four times during the opening 24 minutes.
“[The defense] rose to the occasion,” said Haymore, whose special teams took advantage of the defense’s performance by blocking a field goal and returning it 80 yards for a touchdown for the game’s opening points.
James Wood was able to keep Sherando under four yards per carry two weeks ago until D.J. Myers picked up 52 yards on two runs to put the Warriors’ up 14-10 in the fourth quarter.
The Colonels will now try to bottle up a Millbrook offense that throws the ball less than every area team (just six attempts per game). The Pioneers are led by Kier (93 carries for 692 yards and 10 TDs) and Nazeeh Johnson (59 carries for 657 yards and 11 TDs).
“Millbrook definitely has speed, and they’re going to use it on the corners,” Funkhouser said. “We’ve got to go hard to contain that, but we’ve got to play tight in the middle too, and the weak side has to play strong.”
If Millbrook can continue its penchant for producing big plays — it has 15 TDs of 30 yards or more — perhaps the Pioneers will pull of their first win against a Winchester-Frederick County school under Haymore. The Pioneers went 0-6 in such games in Haymore’s first two years.
“That’s driving us this year,” Shingleton said. “We want to start beating the local teams.”