Colonels, Pioneers to renew rivalry

James Wood knows it is likely that they will be playing once the Region 4C football playoffs roll around.

Millbrook knows that it will not.

But none of that matters when the two Frederick County rivals clash tonight at Millbrook in what promises to be a rainy Class 4 Northwestern District clash.

The Colonels (6-2 overall, 3-1 district) enter tonight’s contest tied with Handley for second place in the district standings. The district runner-up will get to host a home game in the opening round of regionals while No. 3 and No. 4 will face Dulles District opponents on the road. The Colonels have not hosted a playoff game at Kelican Stadium since Jerry Kelican was head coach in 1980.

“It would be great to get that [No. 2] seed,” James Wood coach Ryan Morgan said. “It would be great to have a home playoff game. … Ultimately the goal is to play in the postseason and do some damage not matter what. … We’re still playing for a lot. We’re not comfortable with our record so far.

“There’s good competition in these last couple of weeks with intracounty rivalries and all of that stuff,” added Morgan, whose team will host Handley on Nov. 5. “Hopefully we can not only use it as a tuneup for the postseason, but we want to earn our spot and work our way higher in the seed.”

While his Pioneers won’t be in the playoffs, Josh Haymore believes they also have a lot to play for to close out the season. After dropping its first seven games, Millbrook is coming into tonight’s matchup off the high of topping Liberty 39-38 on quarterback Detric Brown’s two-point conversion run in overtime.

“It shows that the hard work that they’ve done for the past however many months has paid off,” Haymore said of the victory. “We’ve played a hard schedule and we’ve played some hard teams. Each week we have made gains.”

Morgan said from what he’s seen on film the Pioneers are improving. Wideouts CJ Standen (39 catches, 715 yards, 5 TDs) and Braden George (29 catches, 366 yards, 3 TDs) are dangerous targets and Brown, who leads the area with 1,456 yards passing, can hurt you with his arm (10 TDs) and his legs (3 TDs).

“They have a few athletes at the receiver position and any time you have a quarterback who can run, get out of the pocket and make things happen with his feet, that’s kind of an X-factor,” Morgan said.

“We’ve become a disciplined football team,” Haymore said of his squad. “I thought at the beginning of the year we lacked a little bit of discipline in some areas. As the year has gone along, we’ve gotten better at those and that has helped us.”

Morgan is looking for some improved discipline from his squad. The Colonels blanked Fauquier 23-0 last week, but struggled under an avalanche of penalties after taking a 20-0 halftime lead. It marked the second consecutive week that James Wood has stumbled in the second half after getting a big halftime lead.

“It’s about execution and avoiding penalties,” Morgan said. “For whatever reason, it seems like the second half of the last two games has been a lot of penalties. I said it last week, when you look at the film they are deserved penalties. We get called for holding and it’s because we are holding. … It’s really hard to get into a rhythm when you are incurring penalties.

“Our kids have not been going into the locker room and celebrating their success and talking about what they are going to do for the rest of the weekend,” he added. “They go in and they seem to be locked in on making fixes and getting better.”

Haymore said the Colonels certainly have some weapons for his team to tackle. Running back Wes Brondos is 93 yards short of the 1,000-yard mark for the season and wideout Jaden Ashby, the area’s leading scorer with 20 TDs, is dangerous running and catching the ball and also on special teams. Quarterback Jared Neal has thrown for 15 TDs.

The Colonels, led by ends Caleb Keefer (7 sacks) and Brendan Cassidy (6 sacks), have shut out a pair of opponents on defense.

“They are a very physical football team which is a concern,” Haymore said. “They get downhill in run game. They have [Brondos] and Ashby is a good football player, obviously. I think their defense is pretty solid also. They don’t do a whole lot on there, but they make you play good offense. You have to play mistake free and I think the teams who have beaten them (Kettle Run and Jefferson, W.Va.) have done that.”

Playing mistake-free will be challenging considering the rainy weather forecast which caused several games to be moved up a day.

“Based on the weather, the No. 1 thing is ball security and creating turnovers,” Morgan said Wednesday afternoon. “I was looking at the weather earlier and it said it was a 90 percent chance of rain and maybe thunderstorms. We have to make sure we’re taking care of the football. We’ve been practicing with wet footballs to prepare for it. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing — which team can adjust and create the most turnovers or limit the number of turnovers. Rain can be a great equalizer.”

Haymore acknowledged holding onto the ball may be difficult, but after a season in which his team has dealt with a COVID-19 quarantine, a few raindrops are just an inconvenience.

“It’s an opportunity to play another game whether it’s in the rain or not in the rain,” he said. “They’re taking it as that. I looked at them [Wednesday] in the huddle and said, ‘They’ve added another quarter of an inch to the total rain on Friday, just to give everybody the heads up. We’re going to still play football.’ And a lot the kids were excited and like, ‘Heck, yeah we’re going to get our jerseys dirty. Heck yeah, let’s go.’”

Both coaches want to see their squads get better, regardless of the conditions.

“We’ve got some things that we need to clean up as far as coverage, blocking up front and as far as being disciplined and not taking penalties. Those are things that I feel like we’ve been working on all season,” Morgan said. “We made some strides in some of those areas last week, but from my experience of watching playoff teams in the past, we have to get better in a lot of areas if we want to do some damage in the playoffs.”

“I hope to see us to continue to get better,” Haymore said. “It’s a rivalry game. I think everyone is excited about the rivalry and being able to play again. They have that respect for being able to play another game with all of the circumstances they’ve faced in the last 365 days.”

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