Tigers pull away late to spoil Wildcats’ home opener

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County High School’s football team stuck with visiting Brentsville for three quarters Friday night. The Wildcats simply couldn’t muster enough offense to keep pace with the Tigers.

Brentsville broke a tie midway through the second half to begin a string of 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers’ defense smothered Warren County to spoil the Wildcats’ home opener with a 35-14 victory.

“I don’t think we gave up,” Wildcats senior Cam Ford said. “I think we just had a few mistakes that led to big plays. But I mean our heart was there. We kept fighting and I’m proud of my team for that.”

A pile of Brentsville (3-0) penalties and a crucial fumble on a Tiger fake punt in the first quarter kept Warren County (1-2) within 14-7 at halftime, and the Wildcats opened the second half with a pair of key drives to knot the score.

After mustering just 67 yards and one first down in the first half, the Wildcats drove 49 yards down the Brentsville 12 to open the third quarter. The drive halted there after R.J. Keeney’s pass was intercepted by Romell Jones at the 10, but a quick three-and-out by Warren County’s defense gave the ball right back to the Wildcats at the Brentsville 37 following a short punt.

In a move prompted in part by Brentsville’s persistent pressure on the quarterback (the Tigers finished with five sacks), Wildcats head coach Steven Crist inserted Ford – a receiver with quarterback experience – at QB on the drive. On second down, Ford rolled to his right and found tight end Brendan McMackin all alone behind the defense for a 33-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14-14 with 6:32 left in the third quarter.

“I guess they just weren’t paying attention to the tight end and my first look was gonna be Brendan because we needed something big there,” said Ford, who passed for 45 yards and caught three passes for 42 yards. “I just saw him right before I got hit, so I just tossed it and I trusted him.”

That would be the extent of Warren County’s production, however, and Brentsville reclaimed the lead and the momentum with an eight-play, 65-yard scoring drive that ended with Jones’ 5-yard touchdown run on an end-around with 11:53 to play.

“That was big because it could’ve went the other way,” Tigers head coach Ryan Smith said of the drive. “In my mind I was like man we’re in trouble. But they faced it and they came back hard on it, and they played hard. That was a huge drive for us and that’s a defining moment.”

The Tigers put together touchdown drives of 53 and 45 yards later in the quarter to put the game away, both ending on 7-yard touchdown runs by Eric Jones (12 carries, 87 yards).

Prior to Brentsville’s fourth-quarter breakout, Warren County had prevented the Tigers’ wishbone offense from gaining much momentum. The Tigers had 130 yards rushing in the first half, with half of that coming on a 64-yard run by Romell Jones (four carries, 104 yards; four catches, 59 yards) on a fake punt.

“We made a conscious decision there, we knew we were gonna have to stop the run. They’ve had two pretty big games on the ground,” Crist said. “And that’s not to discount their passing game. We knew that they were good. Obviously tonight they made some plays but like I said I thought our kids played with great effort.”

Brentsville, which finished with 449 yards (293 rushing), scored both of their first-half touchdowns through the air. The Tigers’ third possession of the game was a 40-yard drive that ended with Michael Giltner’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Romell Jones on a jump ball in the end zone. Giltner, who completed 8 of 23 passes for 156 yards and an interception, also found Jake Cornwell for a 74-yard strike with less than a minute to play in the first half to give Brentsville a 14-7 lead.

“They had a great game plan defensively,” Smith said of the Wildcats’ defense. “I mean they shut down our pull game, so we had to resort to some other things – throwing the ball, developing a pass game, which I knew we would have to do. I didn’t know that we would have to go big-time on it. But they did a really good job of really shutting us down with that.”

Brentsville’s offensive production could’ve been larger had it not been for eight first-half penalties (the Tigers finished with 14 for 96 yards), an interception by Warren County’s Ben Vogt and Romell Jones’ fumble on the fake punt that skipped out of the end zone for a touchback when he stretched for the goal line.

“We shot ourselves in the foot a lot with the penalties, but that’s stuff we’ve gotta work on,” Smith said. “The first two games didn’t really get this adversity in us so this is a good one to at least get out of here with the win.”

Warren County mustered only 129 yards of offense in the loss, including just 13 yards rushing on 32 carries, a total impacted by the five sacks.

The Wildcats’ first touchdown, a 2-yard pass from Keeney (7 of 14, 71 yards) to McMackin, came on a drive that started at the Brentsville 9 after a 24-yard punt return by Ford and a Tiger personal foul penalty.

“We didn’t finish every drive when we had the chance, and that hurt a little bit and took away some momentum a couple times,” said Crist, whose team punted eight times. “You’ve gotta finish drives when you get the chance.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com

Box score

Tigers 35, Wildcats 14
Brentsville 7 7 0 21 – 35
Warren County 0 7 7 0 – 14

First Quarter
B: R. Jones 15 pass from Giltner (Velez kick), 1:12.

Second Quarter
WC: McMacking 2 pass from Keeney (Ashley kick), 7:17.
B: Cornwell 74 pass from Giltner (Velez kick), 0:58.

Third Quarter
WC: McMackin 33 pass from Ford (Ashley kick), 6:32.

Fourth Quarter
B: R. Jones 5 run (Velez kick), 11:53.
B: E. Jones 7 run (Velez kick), 5:21.
B: E. Jones 7 run (Velez kick), 3:34.

First downs 13 6
Rushes-yards 46-293 32-13
Passing yards 156 116
Comp-Att-Int 8-23-1 10-23-1
Punts-avg. 2-26.5 8-26.6
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 14-96 7-51
RUSHING: Brentsville, E. Jones 12-87, Yates 8-35, Cooperrider 1-1, Denney 17-61, R. Jones 4-104, Giltner 1-(-1), Obermeyer 1-5, Gaynord 1-2, Jenkins 1-(-1); Warren County, R. Dodson 9-11, Guerrero 2-4, Keeney 10-(-19), Ford 6-13, J. Dodson 1-2, Dickerson 3-5.
PASSING: Brentsville, Giltner 8-23-156-2-1; Warren County, Keeney 7-14-71-1-1, Ford 3-8-45-1-0, Cripps 0-1-0-0-0.
RECEIVING: Brentsville, R. Jones 4-59, Cornwell 1-74, Cooperrider 3-23; Warren County, Ford 3-42, McMackin 2-35, R. Dodson 1-8, Valencia 2-22, Haley 2-9.