By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
ASHBURN -- When Millbrook needed a star on Friday night, the team turned to "Hollywood."
Jordan Hartman, who is called "Hollywood" by his teammates, returned a punt 65 yards with 4:16 left in the game to give the Pioneers a 21-14 win over Briar Woods in non-district action.
"I think he's one of the best runners in the open field that I've seen," Millbrook coach Reed Prosser said. "What a play. Jordan did a great job."
"Their punter had been kicking [the ball] a little short and they had been bouncing a little, so I stepped up a little bit," Hartman said. "I had one guy coming at me and I was able to get by him. Then one of our new guys who just transferred in, Carter Barnett, made a block to allow me to get to the outside. Then all I had to beat was the punter."
Once he was all alone near the end zone, Hartman slowed down as he crossed the goal line to savor the moment.
"I only had two touchdowns all of last year, so it was nice to get my first of this year," Hartman said. "Once I got into the end zone everybody was there to greet me."
Special teams play was big throughout the game, with numerous big returns and a fumble.
The Pioneers lost a lot of key players from last year's team, but showed they are still solid this year with a new group of guys.
Rylan Banks played a big part in the team's win, racking up 80 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns.
"I never minded being in anyone else's shadow," Banks said. "I just wanted to come out here and step up and be a leader for this team."
The first half was full of offense. Briar Woods received the ball first and put together a solid drive. The Falcons moved the ball inside the Millbrook 35 before the Pioneers' defense came to life and forced a punt.
On Millbrook's opening drive, the Pioneers marched 80 yards in eight plays. Facing a fourth-and-1 from the Briar Woods 36, Banks burst through a sea of tacklers, cut to the left sidelines and raced into the end zone with 3:58 left in the opening quarter.
"It all about the line," Banks said. "I just waited and looked for a hole. There were a lot of people there. Once I found a hole I was able to get through it. Then it was like an adrenaline rush and I was out in the open field."
Briar Woods responded with a seven-play, 34-yard drive. Sam Nixon took the kickoff to the Millbrook 34 to set up the score. On fourth-and-goal from the Millbrook 2, Briar Woods quarterback Austin Frattali connected with DeVontae O'Bannion to tie the game with 11:55 left in the second quarter.
Millbrook fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Falcons' Ashkan Hamidi recovered it at the Millbrook 31. Five plays later, Frattali found Gavin Scherer in the end zone for a touchdown pass to give the Falcons a 14-7 lead with 9:02 left in the first half.
Millbrook bounced back with a 10-play, 76-yard drive on its next possession. Banks capped the drive with a one-yard run on fourth-and-goal with 3:52 left in the half.
"We were right there on the goal line. I wanted the ball," Banks said. "We had been pounding it all the way down. I just got behind Michael Warr and stuck it in."
Both teams had chances in the second half, but couldn't finish off drives. Prosser said he was proud of the way his young team didn't get down and kept fighting.
"The kids didn't get too high or too low," Prosser said. "That's one of things you worry about with a young team. They did a good of playing with poise."
Briar Woods also has a young squad, but couldn't come up with enough plays when it really needed them.
"I think I counted at least six times where we squandered away good opportunities with miscues," Pierce said. "The kids did play hard all the way. They kept fighting and I was happy with that."
Millbrook was very pleased to get the win over one of its rivals over the last few years. Briar Woods defeated Millbrook in the opening game the last two seasons.
Banks said the win is a big confidence-booster for the team.
"Nobody thought we could come out here and get the win," Banks said. "We wanted to do this for us and for last year's seniors.
"I think people are underestimating us, but that's OK. We just want to come out and play as hard as we can."