Millbrook wins battle with Wood, clinches playoff berth

WINCHESTER — Senior quarterback and cornerback Detric Brown didn’t think people outside the Millbrook football program had high expectations for the Pioneers coming into 2022 season.
Anyone who doubted Millbrook before the year probably wasn’t too impressed with their 1-4 start to this season, either.
But all that mattered was that the Pioneers believed in themselves. The power of Millbrook’s self-confidence has been on full display over the second half of the season, and on Friday night it delivered an accomplishment that they’ll always cherish.
A Millbrook team that went 1-9 last season clinched a Region 4C playoff berth with a gritty 21-7 road win over Frederick County rival James Wood at Kelican Stadium.
The Pioneers improved to 5-5 overall and 4-2 in the Class 4 Northwestern District by beating the Colonels (2-7, 1-4). James Wood was within one score of taking the lead until Brown threw the first of his two touchdown passes with 5:05 to go to help the Pioneers to a 14-0 advantage.
Millbrook’s players had ear-to-ear grins as they yelled with each other in the post-game team huddle and then posed for pictures in what was the first win for most of the the Pioneers’ senior class against James Wood. The Millbrook varsity lost to the Colonels each of the last two years, and most of the seniors were on the Pioneer JV team that lost to James Wood in 2019.
There’s been a lot to smile about this year for the Pioneers, who will get a much-deserved break next Friday night, then will get ready to play in the Region 4C quarterfinals on Nov. 11. Millbrook is locked in as the Northwestern’s No. 3 seed and will travel to the Dulles District runner-up in the playoffs.
Brown completed 5 of 7 passes for 108 yards and two TDs, ran for 50 yards on 11 carries and broke up four passes on defense as part of the Pioneers’ effort.
“[Making the playoffs] means the world to me,” Brown said. “Last year, it was great to play with all my teammates and all my seniors that I really miss, but [1-9] just wasn’t something we want to be a part of and wasn’t something we ever want to do again.
“I think over the offseason, we just really kept our heads down and grinded and pushed through everything that people were saying about us, because nobody believed in us besides us. I think with all the things we did, it just shows how hard we worked. Now, having the season run into the playoffs, it feels great.”
Millbrook had to work hard to earn Friday’s win, because James Wood gave the Pioneers everything it had.
The Pioneers started in spectacular fashion when Ryan Hecker moved up to catch the opening kickoff while sprinting at the 31, found a hole in the coverage and returned the ball 44 yards to the Colonel 25.
Millbrook scored after that return to make it 6-0, but it was an eight-play grind that featured a 12-yard run up the middle on a delayed handoff to Tyson Mallory (22 carries, 142 yards) on fourth-and-4 from the 20, and a five-yard Mallory sweep around the left side for a TD on fourth-and-goal. The extra point failed after a false start moved the attempt back five yards.
Led by senior quarterback Jared Neal (26 of 42 for 195 yards), James Wood was nearly even in yardage (Millbrook had a 304-298 edge), and the Colonels made three trips inside the Pioneers’ 30-yard line while it was a 6-0 game.
But Millbrook forced a turnover on downs each time.
The Pioneers’ first clutch stop came when they tackled Lane Overbaugh (16 carries, 52 yards) after a gain of one yard on fourth-and-goal from the 2 with 15 seconds left in the first quarter. That ended a 14-play, 56-yard drive after Mallory’s touchdown. The Colonels had first-and goal from the 10 but couldn’t punch the ball in.
“That was a game-changer,” Millbrook senior defensive tackle and offensive lineman Jett Helmut said. “We needed to stop that.”
James Wood coach Ryan Morgan felt the center and guards got a good push on the fourth-down play. He thought the Colonels might have fared better by burrowing in behind them with the ball rather than trying to make a cut.
“We’ve got to score when we’re down there,” Morgan said. “There were a couple plays before that where there were some running lanes that we didn’t find. I thought our offensive line, especially early in the game with their blocking, they came out and did a really good job. We just didn’t always see the holes early.
“When you know you’re not going to get many possessions because [Millbrook eats] up so much clock, possessions are key.”
Millbrook’s front played a key role on that play, and in the second half, it was a Pioneers secondary led by Brown that shut the door.
Neal was able to complete a lot of short passes to the edges to help the Colonels move the chains, but he didn’t have nearly as much success when he had to throw intermediate or long.
James Wood drove 42 yards in eight plays to the Millbrook 14 to start the second half. But two runs resulted in a loss of one yard. Neal threw incomplete under pressure on third down, and Brown stepped in front of Neal’s pass to Justin Gwinner in the end zone in plenty of time to knock it down on fourth down.
Early in the fourth quarter, Brown’s tight coverage on Andrew Link resulted in an incomplete pass into the end zone on second-and-7 from the 26. After Hecker broke up a pass inside the 15 on third down, Brown broke up another pass intended for Link when Neal stepped up under pressure and threw to the back of the end zone with 8:52 left for a turnover on downs.
Brown only played about 10 defensive snaps last year due to a groin injury and Millbrook not having a true backup quarterback, but Friday showed just how valuable he can be on defense.
“Any way I can help the team, I’m going to do it no matter what,” Brown said. “We had confidence in our secondary tonight. We preach keeping everything in front of us, and we all rally and make tackles. I think we did a great job of that tonight.”
Millbrook coach Josh Haymore was plenty pleased with Brown, tracking him down for a hug after his post-game interview.
“He really shined tonight on defense,” said Haymore, adding that Brown had four or five tackles.
On offense, Brown’s mostly done damage with his legs this year with an area-best 19 rushing touchdowns in Millbrook’s new single-wing offense. But the three-year starting quarterback made some big throws on Friday, including two to an unexpected source.
Three plays after breaking up the pass in the back of the end zone, Brown connected with blocking back Kane Brill for his first catch of the year on third-and-10. The drive ended with Brown moving right and hitting a wide-open Javell Holmes in the back of the end zone, with Mallory’s two-point run making it 14-0 with 5:05 left.
After James Wood turned the ball over on downs again at the Millbrook 44 on another Hecker pass breakup, Brown found Brill open downfield, and this time he took it in for a 52-yard score that made it 21-0 after Xavier Floyd’s extra point.
“They were giving it to us, and we took it,” said Haymore of the pass plays to the Pioneers’ backs (Mallory also had a 15-yard catch). “If they’re playing man, they can’t put a man on all five [players who go on pass routes]. Someone’s going to come open.”
Neal connected with Eli Miller (12 catches for 79 yards) for a 13-yard touchdown with 37 seconds left, and Hunter Barnhart kicked the extra point. James Wood’s Chris Morrison recovered Barnhart’s onside kick at the Millbrook 18, but the Pioneers held strong.
Haymore couldn’t have been prouder of his team. The Pioneers were determined to beat their rival and earn a playoff berth, and they were also playing for a former player. Haymore said the 2020 graduate (Haymore did not want to reveal his name) was delivered some bad news two weeks ago.
“It’s always a battle with [James Wood],” said Haymore, whose squad leads the all-time series 11-9. “Those guys fight to the end, our guys fight to the end.
“I’m so proud of this team. We worked hard in the offseason. I can’t express in words how proud I am and how far they came, how much they truly believe in the offense, and how much they believe in each other to do their jobs on defense.”
“It feels great,” Helmut said. “I’m so happy with how our team played and everyone came to play.”
The Colonels did the same.
“We complimented the kids after the game on their effort,” Morgan said. “The past two weeks, against Fauquier and Millbrook, the kids have played really well and played together.”
Millbrook was held to 196 rushing yards after recording 500 last week against Liberty.
“Our defensive coaches came up with a good game plan and our kids played hard defensively to keep it a tight game,” Morgan said. “Our kids wanted to be physical and knew what it was going to take to stop them defensively from a mental standpoint. We just couldn’t score enough to come out on top.”
James Wood can still finish in a three-way tie for fourth in the district if Fauquier beats Liberty on Nov. 4 and the Colonels beat Handley on Nov. 5. That scenario would bring VHSL power ratings into play, but coming into this week the Colonels (17.3) were well behind Handley (23.5) and Liberty (21.4) in the ratings.
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