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Hawks out to buck history

Skyline’s Chris Grady cuts across the field for a big gain as Brentsville’s Dylan Walls defends during a Sept. 14 game in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Jeff Nations -- jnations@nvdaily.com

Millbrook football coach Reed Prosser teaches English, but this week he might have done well to throw in a history lesson for his Pioneers as they prepared to face Skyline in tonight's Northwestern District opener for both teams.

In the all-time series, the visiting team as won each time. Tonight, Millbrook (3-2) visits Front Royal for the 7 p.m., matchup.

Skyline coach Heath Gilbert made sure his team knows that history, as well, as they prepped for their Homecoming game.

"We're hoping we can break that trend, obviously," Gilbert said.

The Hawks, after opening the season with four straight wins, stumbled for the first time in last week's 28-6 road loss to Kettle Run. In that game, Skyline generated just 36 yards in total offense.

"It was a hard loss. We knew that was a good team, but it hasn't slowed us down any," Hawks senior Kylmen Breeden said.

Gilbert has been happy with the way his team bounced back after that first taste of adversity, as Skyline has been sharp in practice all week as they prepare to take on a short-handed Pioneers squad. Gilbert said his team's confidence remains high, which makes it easier to shake off a loss and focus on their district schedule.

"They've moved on and they needed to," Gilbert said. "We told them they needed to on Friday, and they've responded well. They understand that Kettle Run's a good football team and we had to play our best, and we didn't quite do that."

The Pioneers are also coming off a loss, albeit two weeks ago, when they dropped a 21-14 decision to Fauquier in Warrenton. That was bad enough, but Millbrook exited that game with a slew of injuries after largely sailing through its first four games relatively healthy.

"It's a unique situation," Prosser said. "We had been healthy the whole year, and then against Fauquier we got 10 or 12 guys hurt."

Many of those players used the off-week to return to health and will be available tonight, including starting quarterback Justin Neff, wide receiver/defensive back Rze Culbreath and running back Justin Anderson. But the Pioneers will be without standout two-way lineman A.J. Bolden, a University of Buffalo-bound senior who had his appendix removed and will be week-to-week.

Even without Bolden and several others, the Pioneers present a rugged test for the Hawks.

"They're definitely a good team," Skyline junior two-way lineman Brenden O'Conner said. "It's going to be a tough game. They have a pretty good defense. It should be an even matchup."

The Hawks must do a better job on offense against Millbrook's predominantly 3-4 defense, although the Pioneers -- like Skyline -- tend to shift from odd to even fronts throughout the game.

With Neff back under center, Millbrook's offense will try to attack the Hawks' stout defense with a multitude of weapons.

"They've got multiple athletes, kind of like we do," Gilbert said. "They're fast and they can make plays."

Prosser knows that will be tough against Skyline, calling Hawks defensive end Nick Helmick and linebacker Zack Blair two of the best defenders he's seen in years.
Gilbert likely wouldn't argue that point, about those two or even his defense as a whole.

"Even though we did give up 28 points, [against Kettle Run], our defense played really well," Gilbert said. "We put our defense in some terrible situations. We fumbled the ball inside the 5-yard-line after they got a stop -- I mean, they battled. You watch the film, and our kids played as hard as they could. Offensively, we did nothing."

To break that dreaded home-field streak, the Hawks will need a strong effort on both sides of the ball.

"They've played a tough schedule," Gilbert said of Millbrook. "Their losses have been to tough teams, they beat Harrisonburg. This is a team that can score points, and they've played well on defense."

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