Warriors, Pioneers play for Crimson Apple

Posted: November 2, 2012

WINCHESTER — From 2005 to 2011, every team that’s won the Barr-Lindon Crimson Apple has also won at least a share of the Northwestern District title.

Skyline’s district-clinching victory over Sherando last week ensured that won’t happen this year, but a taste of the Apple is always sweet no matter what.

“That was a really tough loss last week,” said Sherando senior running back Taylor Loudan, whose team was stopped 2 yards short of the end zone on the final play of its 28-21 loss to the Hawks. “But we’ve all had to just put it behind us.

“This is a big game. We’re playing a rival in Millbrook. We really want to defend that Apple Cup, and if we win, it would be awesome to host a playoff game.”

No question, there will be plenty on the line when Sherando (5-4, 2-1 Northwestern District) travels to face Millbrook (6-3, 2-1) at 7 tonight.

For starters, there’s the local bragging rights, which is something these two schools have done a pretty good job of claiming lately. Millbrook (2010) and Sherando (2011) are the last two winners of the Barr-Lindon Crimson Apple, which is awarded each year by The Winchester Star to the team that fares the best between the Winchester-Frederick County schools.

The Pioneers’ title in 2010 was their first-ever, while Sherando claimed its fourth Crimson Apple title last year after sweeping all three games from its local rivals, capping the run with a 36-6 win over Millbrook in the season finale to improve its lead in the all-time series with the Pioneers to 7-2. A Warriors’ win tonight will break a tie with Handley (four) for most Crimson Apple championships.

There’s also big postseason implications involved. The Warriors are ranked fourth (21.9 points) and the Pioneers fifth (21.7) in the latest Region II, Division 4 ratings, so the winner will likely host a regional quarterfinal game next week. The loser is staring at the possibility of perhaps traveling to No. 2 Tuscarora (No. 9 in the state Associated Press poll) or No. 3 Loudoun County (No. 7 AP) next week, schools that Millbrook (a 41-21 loser to Tuscarora Aug. 24) and Sherando (a 29-0 loser to Loudoun County Sept. 14) know all too well.

But the playoffs can wait. Pride can’t.

“It’s a big deal,” Millbrook coach Reed Prosser said. “It’s certainly a big deal for bragging rights. It’s certainly a big deal when you get older, and you can look back on it and see your name [on the trophy] and say, ‘Hey, that was me 15 or 20 years ago.’ Kids understand that, and they’re excited for it.”

Sherando and Millbrook are capable of providing plenty of excitement to the fans who watch them.

Led by senior quarterback Justin Neff (108 for 214 for 1,836 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions), senior wide receiver T.J. Bruce (34 catches for 716 yards and 10 touchdowns) and senior running back Justin Anderson (146 carries, 1,034 yards, 11 touchdowns), the Pioneers boast a balanced offense that’s averaging an area-best 379.9 yards per game.

A week ago, Neff passed for 323 yards and a touchdown in a 27-24 win against Handley, and Sherando coach Bill Hall said the Warriors will have to find a way to keep him from getting into a rhythm with Bruce and senior wide receiver Rze Culbreath (18 catches for 396 yards and five touchdowns).

“They do a good job on the outside for them as far as vertical balls and jump balls,” Hall said. “We have to a good job playing that, and defending all their pass comps. But I think the biggest thing is making sure we do a good job of limiting the big play.”

Last week, Sherando gave up big plays in the running game, as the Hawks compiled 377 rushing yards, with Dayvon Haight breaking off a 93-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Hall said the Warriors were prepared for what the Hawks wanted to do, but Sherando just didn’t make the plays that it needed to make. The bottom line is that he still has faith in his run defense, which leads the area at 135 yards allowed per game (five better than Millbrook).

“The biggest thing is we need to execute better,” Hall said. “Our guys have a lot of pride in what we’re doing, and defense has been the trademark of our team. The fact that we didn’t do as good as we normally do, I think our guys are looking forward to the opportunity to prove themselves.”

A Millbrook offensive line that has been impressive all season will hope to get Anderson going,

“I haven’t done much the past couple of games,” said Anderson, who gained most of his 104 yards and one of his touchdowns in the second half last week. “Hopefully I can have a big game against Sherando.”

Whatever Anderson does accomplish likely won’t involve him throwing the ball much, unlike with Sherando and its star running back. Though Loudan leads the area in rushing with 1,194 yards, he completed 8 of 13 passes, mostly out of spread sets, for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Hawks.

It remains to be seen how much the Warriors will rely on Loudan in the passing game this week, but it did prove to be an effective option against the Hawks.

“Every week, we try to see what strengths that we have, and what are some things that maybe we can exploit from [the opponent],” Hall said. “That’s us developing a game plan. But we’re not going to go too far away from what we do, nor are we going to get too far away from what we’re comfortable with. You can’t invent or install a new offense [at this point]. We have a lot of faith in [sophomore quarterback] Josh [Ojo] and Taylor.”

Prosser said Millbrook’s just preparing for everything.

“They’ve become a different team the last few weeks,” Prosser said. “Every time you see them on film, it’s a different wrinkle. We’ve got to be prepared for whatever type of team they want to be. Once the flow of the game comes in, then we’ll kind of understand what we’re going to get this week.”

The good news for Millbrook is that it’s becoming increasingly confident in its defensive performance. The Pioneers have forced 16 turnovers in their last four games.

“If you get turnovers, then all the sudden you start to become a pretty decent defense,” Prosser said. “We’re not exactly like the Saints when they won the Super Bowl, but that’s kind of the M.O. of our defense — to make plays, create some turnovers, and try to give our offense the ball as many times as possible. If we can do that, I like our chances.”

And if they do, perhaps the Pioneers will take the Super Bowl of Winchester and Frederick County.

“For most of us [at Millbrook], this will be our last Apple Cup,” Anderson said. “It’d be great to bring that back to Millbrook.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at  rniedzwiecki@winchesterstar.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1