Millbrook's football players didn't need an explanation about what happened last Friday in a 28-17 loss against Loudoun County.
The Pioneers inherently knew what went wrong.
“I think they realize how hard they didn't play,” said coach Josh Haymore, whose team travels to Heritage (Leesburg) at 7 p.m. tonight. “They have needed to get after it in practice a little bit more this week. That's what we are doing.”
Haymore, in his seventh year as head coach at Millbrook, says he has one of the best leadership groups since he has been with the program. Those players, like senior Gavin Evosirch, hold each other accountable.
“Our leaders are really involved and they care,” Haymore said. “I'm not saying other leaders didn't care, but they take everything to heart. … They are all willing to step up and say it. They're not just going to sit back and say, 'I'm going to lead by example.' They talk and they talk with each other which is good. I think the leadership is there.”
Those players also know a Week 2 loss doesn't kill the Pioneers' playoff chances. Last season, Millbrook lost to Loudoun County and bounced back to make the Region 4C playoffs.
To rebound, the Pioneers are going to have to beat a similar team to the Raiders. Heritage (1-1) has been stout on defense, giving up just one touchdown in each of its two games, a 6-0 loss to Riverside and a 14-6 win against Kettle Run last week.
“I think they are a good football team,” Haymore said of the Pride. “They've got some big boys up front. They like to hit. They're a physical football team. On defense, they get after it like Loudoun County does. They have some speed on defense. They have some young kids, but they don't look young on film.”
One player has made a big impression on Haymore. Heritage defensive lineman Alex Kovacs, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior, was a one-man wrecking crew last week against Kettle Run. Kovacs had four sacks and blocked a punt that was returned for a score. He also ran 13 yards for the Pride's other TD.
“He's an animal,” Haymore said. “The rest of them are good. Don't get me wrong, but they have one defensive lineman that you're like, 'We've got to know where he's at all of the time.'”
As the scores indicate, Heritage has struggled offensively. The Pride offense has just one touchdown, that on Kovacs' TD run following a blocked field goal that gave Heritage the ball at the Kettle Run 13.
Haymore said that Heritage offense has been hamstrung a bit in both games.
“Field position won the battle in the Riverside game,” he said. “When they got the ball they weren't in good field position and when Riverside got the ball they had good field position. It was a little bit of a field position battle also against Kettle Run, but they had two or three drives that started inside of the 50 or 40. That helped them out there.
“Every coach and offensive coordinator knows if you don't win that field position battle it's always a struggle and going uphill. That can lose a game for you.”
Despite last week's loss, Haymore feels the Pioneers' offense is on solid footing. Millbrook is averaging 420 yards per game, led by Evosirch (266 yards rushing), quarterback Kaden Buza (534 yards, 6 TDs passing) and receiver Jordan Jackson (3 TD catches).
“I like what we're doing on offense,” Haymore said. “I think Gavin is doing a good job at running back. He's getting a good amount of carries and catches, too. We needed to fix some things on on offense from last week — nothing was broke, but we need to fine-tune them and get them better. We attacked that.”
Haymore says he's pointing to a few key things for the Pioneers to get back on the winning track.
“We've got to execute on offense, definitely,” he started. "That's what we didn't do. There were things there last week that we needed to take care of and we didn't execute. We need to execute on defense also, being good tacklers and good guys who make good reads. … You need to be doing your job and not worrying about anybody else's.
“Taking it from last week, we have got to play hard. Most of the times, it's not about what the team across from you is doing — it's what we are doing. We have to play hard from the first snap until the last snap and we have to be the most physical team on the field. If you're not the most physical team on the field, it's hard to play hard. If we can do that, we will be alright.”