Late touchdown lifts Hawks past Pioneers

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

FRONT ROYAL — Skyline struggled with its passing game most of the night, but with the rain pouring down and the pressure mounting, the Hawks make the biggest play when it counted the most.

Corban Ruch’s touchdown pass to Jamal Parker in the final minutes helped give the Hawks a 7-3 Northwestern District football victory over Millbrook on Friday night.

“I appreciate the coaches trusting me with that after all the failed pass attempts, all the drops our team had had,” Parker said. “The rain was coming down harder than it had the whole game — they still trusted me to call my number when the team needed it. So I was just glad I was able to deliver.”

The Hawks had moved the ball all night long, but four turnovers had kept them off the scoreboard.

Ruch was only 2-for-11 passing heading to Skyline’s last drive with 2:14 remaining and trailing 3-0. A pass interference call and a 14-yard run by Ruch moved the ball to Millbrook 27-yard line.

Parker was able to break free from a Millbrook defender and Ruch hit him in stride as he headed into the end zone for the touchdown with 1:19 left in the game.

“It was a great throw,” Parker said of the touchdown. “I told him before the play, I was like, ‘Put it on my chest, because if I have to catch it with my hands I might drop it.’ He did a great job putting it on my chest, and I was barely to catch it in stride with my body.”

“He got behind the defender, ran a great route and made a great catch,” Ruch said. “My offensive line was so amazing on that play. I had so much time to make a read and deliver the ball. It was great. My offensive line was just on point. They were really on point the whole night.”

Ruch and Parker may have scored the game-winning touchdown, but it was the defense that won the game for the Hawks.

Skyline (4-2, 1-0 Northwestern) held Millbrook to only 74 yards of total offense, including only nine yards and one first down in the second half.

“We executed. We made the important stops when they counted,” Skyline defensive lineman Ronnie Clifton said. “We kept going three-and-out, and held them to that one field goal, so I’m pretty happy about that.”

The Pioneers had one last chance on offense after Nazeeh Johnson returned the kickoff to the Skyline 48-yard line. Two plays later, Parker tipped a pass by Millbrook quarterback Mark Paxton, bobbled it in the air a couple times before hauling it in for the game-sealing interception.

“I was really nervous. I tipped it up and I thought the [receiver] was going to catch it,” Parker said. “So I was happy that I was able to tip it up and then grab it. It was really great.”

The Pioneers got on the board early in the game. Milbrook used 10 plays to move the ball 48 yards to the Skyline 19-yard line. Skyline’s defense stiffened and forced the Pioneers into a 35-yard field goal by Tyler Gray with 4:29 left in the first quarter.

Millbrook managed only three first downs the rest of the game, one of which came late in the fourth quarter.

“I was really proud of those guys — they competed,” Skyline head coach Heath Gilbert said. “Millbrook does some good things offensively, and they’ve been potent on offense. We knew we had our work cut out for us. …They wear you out with those sweeps. I was getting a little worried there in the fourth quarter, because they were getting a little more edge, a little more edge. Our kids rallied and they stuck together, and they were able to make plays to shut the offense down a little bit.”

Skyline had opportunities on offense throughout the game. The Hawks only punted three times in the contest.

Skyline was able to move the ball inside the Millbrook 40 on three different occasions, but was unable to come away with points each time.

The rain certainly slowed both offenses down, but Parker said that was no excuse for the way the Hawks played.

“We’ve got to clean it up. We need to catch the ball no matter if it’s raining — it rains sometimes,” Parker said. “You still got to catch the ball. You still got to move the ball. You can’t fumble. We’ve got to clean up our mistakes.”

Jerrius Baltimore had 90 yards rushing on 18 carries, and Ruch had 64 yards on the ground on 16 carries for the Hawks.

Coming off a loss to Kettle Run last week, the win was a big one for the Hawks. It was also the district opener for Skyline.

“This is a huge win for us,” Parker said. “On our schedule we have a string of three games that are against competitive opponents and we want to win all three, and this is the first game. To start the streak — we were planning to have — off with a loss would have been a huge bummer for morale. So winning this game is just huge.”