Plenty at stake for Millbrook, James Wood

WINCHESTER — It's possible the loser of today's 7 p.m. football game between Millbrook and James Wood won't see their playoff hopes come to an end this week.
The playoff scenarios are a heck of a lot simpler for the winner, though, so there's bound to be a lot of joy emanating from whichever team comes out on top in tonight's Class 4 Northwestern District matchup. The top four teams in the district standings will make the Region 4C playoffs, and Millbrook (5-3, 3-2 district) and James Wood (6-2, 3-2) are in a three-way tie for third place with two games left in the season.
James Wood clinched its first winning season since 2010 with last week's 21-18 win at Fauquier, and now the Colonels hope for another breakthrough. James Wood hasn't beaten Millbrook since 2014, which is also the last year that the Colonels made the playoffs. Millbrook has made the playoffs every year since 2015. 
"Millbrook's played in big games, played in playoff games," James Wood coach Ryan Morgan said. "They've come out on top against opponents like Sherando. Millbrook's been there before and our kids are kind of learning what it takes to be successful at a winning pace."
Morgan said mental focus and limiting Millbrook's big plays are going to be key factors if James Wood is going to be successful tonight. The Pioneers and Colonels might not get the types of big plays they're accustomed to, though.
Both Millbrook and James Wood have leaned more on their passing games this year, but with rain falling Wednesday and Thursday in Winchester the muddy conditions could make throwing the ball more difficult.
The Pioneers are averaging 241.3 passing yards per game (360.8 total) behind quarterback Kaden Buza (111 of 200 for 1,930 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions). Led by quarterback Carson Hoberg (96 of 174 for 1,611 yards, 14 TDs and five interceptions), James Wood is averaging 204 passing yards per game (383.8 total).
"I think there's going to be a lot of slipping and sliding around," Millbrook coach Josh Haymore said. "It's just a matter of making sure we understand how to execute and do what we need to do to execute. We'll see. With the passing attack that both teams have, I think it's key that whoever doesn't slip as much is going to be a little more successful than the other one."
James Wood had no answer for Buza and Millbrook's passing attack last year. He threw for 361 yards and four TDs on 25-of-33 passing as the Pioneers won 60-32.
Millbrook is coming off a game in which it struggled to generate much of anything on offense after it scored touchdowns on its first two drives. The Pioneers recorded only 122 total yards for the game and were shut out in the second half of a 20-14 loss to Liberty. In the second half, the Pioneers were without the services of running back Gavin Evosirch (122 carries for 879 yards and 11 TDs and 24 catches for 281 yards and four TDs) because of an injury.
"We didn't play very good in certain aspects of the game, and we've just got to fix that," Haymore said. "We've got to make sure we have the effort, we've got to make sure we have the execution, and be better."
Defensively, James Wood is surrendering 382.9 yards per game (200.8 rushing). Safety Sam Adkins has 57 tackles and four interceptions. Linebacker Jackson Turner leads the team with 79 tackles.
"They do a good job of disguising coverages and making sure the offense doesn't know what's coming at them," Haymore said. 
Millbrook's offense also is led by wide receivers Jordan Jackson (34 catches, 779 yards, 8 TDs), T.J. Spain (22 catches, 368 yards, 4 TDs) and Diante Ball (20 catches, 370 yards, 4 TDs. Ball moved to running back with Evosirch out for part of the second quarter and the entire second half and rushed for 44 yards and a TD on 13 carries.  
"We've got to play probably our best game in pass coverage to keep them down," Morgan said. "We did a pretty good defending the pass last week against Fauquier until they hit a couple deep passes at the end. Our kids have made strides to improve the past couple weeks. Against Liberty [two weeks ago], we just had some problems with 50-50 balls."
In addition to Hoberg, James Wood's offense is led by running back Adkins (95 carries, 877 yards, 12 TDs), wide receiver Jaden Ashby (36 catches, 627 yards, 9 TDs) and wide receiver William Crowder (six TDs and 502 yards rushing and receiving).
"We've got to come to play as a defense," said Haymore, whose team is giving up 24.9 points per game and 346.8 yards per game (212.6 rushing). "We've got to make sure we play hard and we play fast in every aspect of defense. Make sure we're keying on the run with everybody up front and make sure the pass is set with our DBs. We've got to play assignment football and make sure everybody is in the right spot."  
Morgan said the Colonels didn't do a good job of picking up stunts and blitzes against Fauquier and added that will have to improve against a Millbrook defense that features safety Aidan Haines (75 tackles, five interceptions), linebacker Aidan Long (59 tackles) and defensive lineman Tyler Duckstein (47 tackles). 
"[Duckstein] is tough for any offensive tackles to handle," Morgan said. "They have athletic defensive backs and they're tough up front." 
A victory by James Wood tonight will put an end to The Winchester Star's Barr-Lindon Crimson Apple competition. The only scenario in which Sherando will not retain ownership of the trophy awarded to the team that fares best in Winchester-Frederick County games is if Millbrook beats James Wood tonight and the Colonels beat Handley next week.
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1