Tuscarora pulls away from Pioneers 42-21
LEESBURG — The Millbrook football team had to be feeling good about itself heading into the locker room at halftime Friday night.
Facing No. 2-seeded Tuscarora — a team that had hammered them by 21 points in their season opener back on Aug. 24 — on the road, the Pioneers had gone toe-to-toe with the Huskies over the first 24 minutes of action.
They’d scored on their first drive of the game when senior Justin Anderson dove over the pile from two yards out and their defense had held on four straight plays inside its own 10-yard line.
The vaunted Tuscarora ground game had gained 115 rushing yards in the first two quarters, but it had taken 26 carries and with the score tied 7-7, the Pioneers appeared primed for the upset.
Then the third quarter happened.
Twelve minutes, three turnovers, 140 rushing yards and four touchdowns later, No. 7 Millbrook found itself down 28 and on its way to a 42-21 loss in the quarterfinals of the Region II, Division 4 playoffs.
“That was rough,” said Millbrook coach Reed Prosser about the decisive third quarter. “We knew they were going to make a nice adjustment and come out fired up in the second half. They do what they do and they do it very well and they made some plays [in the third quarter].”
Things started poorly for the Pioneers (6-5) and just got worse in the second half.
A failed onside kick gave Tuscarora (10-1) a short field and the Huskies ran the ball eight straight times in a 52-yard drive that ended with senior Adrien Stinger (17 carries for 126 yards) bursting around the left side from six yards out.
Three plays into their ensuing drive, Millbrook quarterback Justin Neff was blind-sided by Tuscarora linebacker Courtez Day and fumbled the ball. Teammate Ryan Abbate quickly picked up the loose ball and sprinted 30 yards to make it 21-7.
Millbrook would go three-and-out the next time it got the ball, Tuscarora would respond with a 93-yard scoring drive that was again all on the ground, and by the time Neff’s pass was tipped, intercepted and returned 45 yards by Huskies linebacker Jack Coates with 31 seconds left in the third quarter, the Pioneers were suddenly staring at a 35-7 deficit.
“The two free touchdowns they got, that was tough,” Prosser said. “They brought pressure off the edge away from trips [on the forced fumble], which is something we’re usually able to pick up, but we didn’t and they were able to scoop and score it. And then with the tipped pass, those were big plays.”
By the time the third quarter had ended, the Pioneers had gained a total of 27 yards on four possessions and managed just one first down.
A pair of fourth quarter scores — the first on a 10-yard run by Neff (14 for 33 for 248 yards and 3 interceptions) and the second on a 75-yard pass from Neff to senior T.J. Bruce (4 catches for 99 yards) — kept things respectable, but the damage had already been done.
“We definitely lost a lot of energy in that second half,” said Millbrook linebacker Dylan Wisman. “I’m not really sure what happened, we just came out flat and didn’t have the energy that we had in the first half. It just didn’t carry over with us.”
The energy was certainly present in the first two quarters when Wisman and the Millbrook defense bent but refused to break.
After a 47-yard pass from Neff to senior Rze Culbreath set up Anderson’s touchdown just three minutes into the game, Tuscarora went on a 16-play, 53-yard drive that included four third-down conversions.
But facing third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, defensive lineman A.J. Bolden met running back Noah Reimers at the line for no gain, and a swarm of Pioneers stopped Reimers on the next play to force a turnover on downs.
The Pioneers attempted an onside kick, a fake field goal and a fake punt in the first half alone — only the fake punt would work, with senior Garrett Williams taking the direct snap and rushing for 12 yards and the first down — as they played with the reckless abandon that’s been their trademark this season.
“We said we were going to take some chances, take some gambles and we did in the first half,” said Prosser, whose team allowed Tuscarora just three possessions in the first half. “A couple of them worked, a couple of them didn’t, but to be tied 7-7 at the half against a team we really struggled to compete with the first go around, I was really proud of our kids.”
Unfortunately the play couldn’t be sustained and the Huskies showed why they were the second seed in the second half.
Tuscarora finished with 334 rushing yards as a team (Reimers totaled 91 on 19 carries and junior Mali Barker added 84, 40 of which came on a scoring run late in the fourth quarter) and threw the ball just eight times in the game.
“We’re kind of a methodical, grind-it-out team and when you only have [three] possessions in the first half and you don’t punch it in, it can be tough,” said Huskies coach Michael Burnett. “But we told our kids we were just going to keep doing what we do and we felt like our defense was going to make some plays and it did. They took advantage of some opportunities [in the third quarter] and that helped us a lot tonight.”
— Contact Kevin Trudgeon at email@example.com
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