Millbrook outlasts James Wood, 40-37

WINCHESTER — Only three of the four Winchester-Frederick County schools are going to make the Region 4C playoffs, and the Millbrook and James Wood football teams gave everything they had to be part of that experience on Friday night at the Colonels’ Kelican Stadium.
Millbrook won a wild 40-37 game that wasn’t decided until the final 90 seconds to put itself in a three-way tie for second in the Class 4 Northwestern District, where the top four teams in the eight-team district will make the playoffs. The Pioneers (6-3, 4-2 district) share second place with Handley and Sherando, and James Wood (6-3, 3-3) is now on the outside looking in in fifth place, one game back, and will hope that a win over Handley next week will get it in.
On Friday, the Colonels were just hoping to beat their Frederick County rival for the first time since 2014. James Wood only led once (7-6 with 4:34 left in the first quarter) and was outgained 591-370, but it took an interception by Pioneer sophomore defensive back Braden George with 1:36 left at the Millbrook 33-yard line and a 10-yard completion three plays later on third-and-9 to Jordan Jackson (four catches for 93 yards, including a 58-yard TD) to finally decide things.
“[This win] is huge,” said George (three catches, 72 yards), who was one of four Pioneers to record more than 70 receiving yards. “It gives us a lot of confidence. That was a really good game, and we’re just happy that we pulled it out.”
Millbrook had lost its previous two games to Handley and Liberty. James Wood — which played without injured wide receiver/defensive back Williams Crowder because of an injury suffered last week against Fauquier — threatened to make it three straight despite trailing 28-14 at the half.
But Millbrook showed plenty of fight to hold the Colonels off, and Millbrook coach Josh Haymore could not have been more impressed.
Diante Ball was one of many players who stepped up to the challenge, rushing for 239 yards and three TDs with starting running back Gavin Evosirch out with an injury.
“We believed we could win and we won,” Haymore said. “The coaches believed in these kids, they believed in themselves, and they did it. They fought to win. I was proud of every single one of our kids. It was very impressive.”
Millbrook had to dig particularly deep when Kaden Buza (14 of 28 for 336 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) threw a deep pass incomplete thanks to tight coverage from Levaughan Freeman on fourth-and-11 from the James Wood 27 with 4:55 left.
The Colonels turned to Sam Adkins (33 carries for 159 yards and three TDs) on four straight running plays to set up first and 10 at the Millbrook 43, but with the clock approaching two minutes James Wood took to the air to continue the drive.
The first down pass from Carson Hoberg (16 of 27 for 162 yards and two TDs, six carries for 41 yards and one TD) didn’t pick up any yardage, and his second- and third-down passes were incomplete.
On fourth down, Hoberg threw to Clayton Jones over the middle. Jones initially controlled the ball, but as he turned upfield he started to lose the handle on it. Any chance that Jones had of collecting the ball again was ruined by George, who snatched the ball into his arms just before it hit the ground at the 33 for an interception. Had Jones been able to hold on the ball, he might have had enough for a first down.
“The tight end came out straight and I saw the quarterback throw the ball,” said the 5-foot-8, 170-pound George. “I knew I had to make a play on it, and I just came up and hit [Jones]. As I was falling down, I caught it. The ball was already starting to come out, but I was trying to hit him so he wouldn’t get the first down.”
The change of possession set off a roar from the Milllbrook crowd moments after the Colonels fans had been screaming to urge their team on to complete the comeback. James Wood almost gave itself one more chance to get the ball back by using its timeouts and holding Millbrook to one yard on the next two plays, but Jackson was able to take a short pass and turn it into a 10-yard gain. Millbrook kneeled out the clock from there.
James Wood coach Ryan Morgan said it was just an unfortunate break that Jones wasn’t able to secure the catch. The Colonels certainly wouldn’t have been in a position to win if not for the 6-foot-3 Jones, whose night included two huge red-zone tackles that forced a turnover on downs by Millbrook in the first half after the Pioneers had driven to the James Wood 4.
“Clayton’s a really good athlete,” Morgan said. “He’s shown that all year long. He’s one of the area leaders in sacks. He made some nice plays on defense tonight.
“We don’t use a tight end much our offense, but we try and figure out ways to use him because of his talent. It’s unfortunate that play turned out that way, but we chose to try and get him that ball because we think he can make plays like that. Not every play goes your way. [George] made a nice play there.”
The fact that James Wood was in that position was a testament to its own fighting spirit because early on it looked like the Pioneers were going to roll to another comfortable win. Millbrook outgained the Colonels 401-124 in the first half.
Ball routinely ripped off big gains, highlighted by a 61-yard TD run in which he started up the middle and bounced left to make it 22-7 Pioneers with 11:16 left in the second quarter. Ball’s run was followed by a two-point run by Buza — Millbrook went for two points every time after Pat Sigler’s extra point on the muddy field barely got off the ground after the first TD.
“Filling in for Gavin is a big role to fill,” said Ball, who had 178 yards and two TDs (he had a 3-yard run that made it 14-7) in the first half. “He’s a great player. I just had to deliver for my team. All credit to the line, because they did their job every play. They busted their tails every play. All respect to them.”
The Pioneers also got a 62-yard TD catch from T.J. Spain (four catches, 82 yards, 15-yard TD to open the scoring, one interception) that made it 28-14 with 3:49 left in the second quarter in which he stopped to catch the ball inside the 30 and let his defender fly past him before falling.
The Colonels were in the game at halftime though thanks to two red-zone stops (Jones had a 10-yard sack for a turnover on downs, Jackson Turner had an interception at the 5), and then Hoberg had a seven-yard TD run on the first drive of the second half to make it 28-21 and set the tone for a back-and-forth second half.
Hoberg scored that TD after faking a handoff to Adkins. Hoberg’s ability to sell fakes, extend plays with his legs behind the line of scrimmage and take off for big gains when he had to played a big role in keeping the game close in the second half. Hoberg threw on the run to connect with Jayson Herndon for a six-yard TD with 6:39 left, then ran in the two-point conversion to make it 40-37.
“Carson has always been able to move,” Morgan said. “He made some big plays tonight. I challenged him before the game to let loose and make plays. He knew this, but I told him it’s playoff time. We’re playing to extend the season. We’ve been trying to limit [his running] to keep him healthy, but tonight we told him to just go out and play football.
“[Assistant coach Brian Thomas] just told him he thought he thought it was the best game he played. The numbers might not have been there, but as far as making plays and showing determination, I agree with Coach Thomas.”
Friday was James Wood’s senior night, and Hoberg was part of the contingent that did its best to make it a memorable one.
“None of our seniors had our heads low tonight,” senior Adkins said. “There was a lot of leadership. It wasn’t just the captains. All of the seniors put all of their effort into it.”
Millbrook simply made a couple of more plays.
“We kept our heads high,” Ball said. “We haven’t always done that this season [in tough situations]. We pulled together and did what we had to do.”
Also on Friday, Millbrook’s Aidan Haines had two catches for 73 yards, and James Wood’s Luke Esparza had six catches for 81 yards and a 47-yard kickoff return. Chris Garcia connected on all three of his extra point attempts and caught a two-point pass from Hoberg.
Millbrook closes its regular season with Culpeper County (1-8, 0-6) next week.
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