RALEIGH — Millbrook was motivated by the loss still fresh in its players minds from two weeks earlier.
Leesville Road had come to Millbrook and knocked the Wildcats out of the Cap Eight title race earlier this month, but Millbrook was the last team standing Friday. The Wildcats ran away with a 24-21 win at Leesville to advance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA playoffs.
We gained a lot of confidence in that game even though we didnt win it, said Millbrook coach Clarence Inscore. (Leesville) is great football team. Its well coached. Theyve got a lot of great athletes over there, but weve got a lot of great athletes on our side too. We played really well, and Im very proud of my of my guys. Im proud of my coaching staff and proud of our school.
Millbrook (9-3, 5-2 Cap Eight), a No. 9 seed, led for much of the game, but No. 8 Leesville Road (8-4, 5-2 Cap Eight) took its first lead midway through the fourth quarter when senior Braxton Berrios ran in his second score of the final period to put the Pride ahead 21-17.
That touchdown came after the Pride blocked a Millbrook punt, to start their drive on the Wildcats 36 yard-line, swaying momentum and the scoreboard in Leesvilles favor.
Sophomore quarterback Reid Herring and the Wildcats stayed composed, answering on the next drive with a Herring-to-Reche Hunter 11-yard pass for what would be the winning touchdown.
The Millbrook win stopped Leesville Road in the first round for the first time since 2010, ending what had been a season of overcoming injuries for the Pride.
Im very proud of the kids effort. They battled hard all season long and they kept coming out every week and being coachable and doing what we asked them to do, said Leesville Road Chad Smothers. We came up short tonight. All the credit to Millbrook. They found ways to plays at the end. We got ahead and they went down the field and scored when they had to. Its tough. I feel bad for these seniors that ended up losing their last two home games here at Leesville, but Im not going to remember them for how many games they won. Itll be other stuff.
Millbrook advanced to the second round of the state tournament for the first time since 2007. They will travel to top-seeded Wakefield, a team the Wildcats beat during Cap Eight play.
Playing a familiar opponent in Leesville Road gave Millbrook a chance to prove itself, Herring said.
I thought it was great that we finally got a chance to beat them, especially for the seniors who have never seen us beat them, said Herring, who finished 12 of 20 passing for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Itll just fuel us even more to do better in the playoffs.
The last time the teams met resulted in a rainy, muddy 7-3 Leesville Road win at Millbrook in the second-to-last game of the regular season, but rain held off for this playoff match.
We knew that it would be more of a balanced game, Smothers said. The ability to throw the ball was not going to be hindered by the conditions. ... We felt like it would come down to a really tight game, they do at this point in the season with the playoffs, so its just going to come down to who makes the most mistakes, and we did.
Millbrook scored first, capitalizing on both a nicely-placed punt of its own and a blocked Leesville Road punt.
Millbrook kicker Jarrett Cervis punt placed Leesville Road on its own two-yard line. The Pride picked up two yards on three downs, and were forced to punt from the four.
The Wildcats, blocked the kick and recovered the ball on the Leesville 10. Two plays later, Millbrook junior Marcus Marshall ran in a 7-yard score. Marshall would finish with 113 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown.
Cervi knocked in a 35-yard field goal and Herring found Brandon Goldsmith on a 25-yard strike for Millbrook, as well.
Seniors Malcolm Hitchcock and Berrios led the Leesville attack. Hitchcock finished with 100 yards on 15 carries, and a rushing score. Berrios finished with 85 yards on 20 carries.