Plenty at stake for Millbrook, James Wood

As Millbrook football coach Josh Haymore was walking from the high school to the Pioneers’ practice field on Monday, he heard Millbrook senior lineman Jett Helmut mention that he’d never beaten James Wood.
Millbrook’s desire to reverse the course of its series with Frederick County rival James Wood is just part of the reason why its motivation level for Friday’s 7 p.m. game at the Colonels’ Kelican Stadium will be sky-high.
The Pioneers (4-5, 3-2 Class 4 Northwestern District) can clinch a Region 4C playoff berth with a win against the Colonels (2-6, 1-3), who have plenty to play for themselves. James Wood could earn a playoff berth if its wins its final two games.
“I’m excited for [the opportunity],” said Millbrook coach Josh Haymore on Monday. “We’re just ready to prepare the kids to play a rival.”
It’s been a rough season for the Colonels, but the first seven games will feel like a distant memory if they can finish strong. James Wood is coming off a 28-21 win over Fauquier.
“The kids are excited,” James Wood coach Ryan Morgan said. “They know it’s a must-win situation on Friday and next week if they want to make the playoffs. I think they have a little bit of energy after the win on Friday, and hopefully, it pays off.”
Millbrook was never in the playoff hunt in 2021, when it went 1-9, including 1-5 in the district. The Pioneers — who beat Liberty for the second straight season with a 49-14 win last week — have already avenged fall 2021 district defeats to Fauquier and Handley, and now they’re looking to do the same to James Wood.
The Pioneers’ 15-member senior class hasn’t had much luck against the Colonels. Quarterback/defensive back Detric Brown and lineman Markell Harrison were freshman on the 2019 team that beat James Wood 40-37.
But a Millbrook JV team that featured many of the current seniors lost 59-20 to the Colonels in 2019, and the Pioneers varsity lost 55-42 in the spring 2021 season and a whopping 56-7 last fall to the Colonels. The latter defeat to James Wood was Millbrook’s worst of the year.
How well each team starts the game — as well as the turnover situation — figures to play a big role.
The Pioneers did not win the turnover battle once in their first five games, compiling a 1-4 record in that stretch. Millbrook has gone 3-1 since, and has a plus-turnover margin in its three wins and lost the turnover battle in a loss against Kettle Run.
Over the last four games, the Pioneers have had some impressive first halves in their wins and a disastrous first half in their 52-32 defeat to Kettle Run. Millbrook led 28-9 at the half in beating Fauquier 48-23; scored on the game’s first possession and led 6-0 at the half in a 25-0 win against Handley; and led 42-6 at the half in last week’s 49-14 win over Liberty.
In the game against the Eagles, Millbrook led 21-0 after having run only five plays. Against Kettle Run, one week earlier, the Pioneers trailed 21-0 after having run only four plays.
James Wood has had starts in which it fell behind 28-0 at Liberty, 21-0 at Brentsville and 20-0 against Jefferson. The Colonels have led 15-0 at the half in their two wins, but even last week, Morgan said James Wood could have been up even more early in the game.
“We had a couple short fields on the first two drives of the game, and we couldn’t punch it in,” Morgan said. “Truthfully, we haven’t gotten off to hot starts all year long, especially on offense, for whatever reasons. We got off to a good start about Kettle Run, but that’s about it.”
Haymore said Millbrook’s offensive and defensive success go hand in hand. Millbrook forced a three-and-out to start last week’s game, and the Pioneers’ quickly got going on a 500-yard rushing night on its next drive.
“I think if you have a physical offense, and you preach being hard-nosed, you see results [on defense],” Haymore said. “We moved the ball on Kettle Run when we wanted to and we weren’t turning the daggone ball over. And if you preach being physical on defense, you’ll be physical on offense.
“On defense, the kids have stepped up and played really hard. They’re being in the right place, playing fast, and getting 11 hats to the football.”
Linebacker Cohen Creswell leads Millbrook with 68 tackles and four pass breakups. On the defensive line, junior Cole Purdy has 32 tackles (nine for a loss) and four sacks, and sophomore Ezra Doyle-Naegeli has 23 tackles, three sacks and four forced fumbles.
Millbrook’s offense is led by running back Tyson Mallory (153 carries, 1,123 yards, 10 TDs) and quarterback Detric Brown (132 carries, 758 yards, 19 TDs; 948 yards passing).
One thing that can help the Pioneers get off to fast starts is the adjustment period teams often need when dealing with the intricacies of the single wing. Morgan pointed out Sherando has a single-wing package, but that’s the only time the Colonels have seen it.
“It takes a little while to adjust to the speed, and the angles, and the efficiency,” Morgan said. “We can’t replicate what [Brown] does for them. We need to play assignment football, keep our eyes in the right place, and they have such good athletes that it’s also about tackling in space.”
James Wood is coming off a game in which it tackled well and held Fauquier to 25 yards on 23 attempts. Junior linebacker Zach Smith leads the area with 112 tackles.
“We’ve been stressing getting on the legs,” Morgan said. “I think the kids have taken that to heart. Earlier in the season, everything was up high. We were grabbing shoulder pads and sliding off.”
Haymore thinks the Pioneers can sustain their success if they continue to do a better job of taking care of ball than their opponent, and flying to the ball on defense.
James Wood’s offense will look to have another big game from the running back duo of Elijah Richards (88 carries, 438 yards, three TDs) and Lane Overbaugh (57 carries, 357 yards, four TDs) and quarterback Jared Neal (98 of 190, 1,094 yards, 10 TDs, 13 interceptions).
“We need to take what they give us,” Morgan said. “Millbrook doesn’t run the widest array of fronts and blitzes and coverages, but they’re sound at what they do and keep things in front of them. We can’t get greedy and try to force the ball deep if there’s nothing there.”
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