For better or for worse, special teams play has been the theme of the week across the football landscape. After a heartbreaking loss earlier in the week on a missed field goal attempt, the Millbrook Football team used special teams to their advantage on Friday as they finished strong to defeat Northern Durham, 41-31.
In a ten point victory, kicker Will Gentile was a difference maker as he accounted for eleven points, including six via field goal. After notching a career-long 32-yard field goal in the second quarter, Gentile hammered a 37-yarder through the uprights in the final five minutes of play to give Millbrook much needed insurance.
Also serving as the team’s punter, the junior was able average over 43 yards per punt on Friday night including two punts downed inside the twenty to make things easy for the defense who would step up with huge plays when it mattered.
As Millbrook benefitted from strong special teams play, Northern Durham was searching for an answer on special teams right from the get-go. Eighty seconds into the game, senior lineman Sam Smith blocked a Knight punt at the Northern Durham ten yard line, scooped it at the five, and returned it into the endzone for his first career touchdown to make it 7-0 Wildcats.
Smith, who also had a sack in the game was one of six different Wildcats who made three or more tackles on defense. As a unit, Coach Helms’ bunch had four sacks, forced three fumbles, recovered three fumbles, and caught two interceptions. Not to mention, Jayden Pauling blocked two kicks on Northern Durham point after attempts.
Millbrook’s offense took the field having already been spotted a lead. They wasted no time tacking on more points as their first play of the evening went for a 37-yard touchdown run on a reverse hand-off to Tyler Snead to make it 14-0. Snead, a wide receiver has already rushed for 82 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Northern Durham finally broke the ice with 2:45 left in the first quarter when senior quarterback, Luke Fenlon found Cade Barnhill 60-yards downfield for a touchdown to cut into the Millbrook lead at 14-6 after Pauling blocked the extra point.
The Wildcats answered with a quick strike two minutes into the second stanza. After Kenan Delbridge recovered a Northern Durham punt near midfield, Kenny McCray sent a laser of a throw through the Knights defense, and into the waiting arms of Tyson Jackson who would set Millbrook up with first and goal at the five yard line. The 45-yard pass led to Chris Twitty’s first career touchdown run, and it gave Millbrook a commanding 21-6 advantage.
Montrell Webb of Northern Durham would put another dent into the Millbrook lead when he scooped and scored a botched hand-off on another reverse play to Snead. Webb’s touchdown, and Gentile’s 32-yarder for Millbrook sent the two teams into halftime with the Wildcats ahead 24-12.
De’Shi Atkins started the second half with a bang for Northern Durham when he found an immediate seam in the Wildcat defense, and exploited it for a 45-yard touchdown run less than 90 seconds into the third quarter to make it 24-19.
Those in attendance began an roller coaster-like feeling of emotions after the Northern Durham score as Larry Rountree had his first career kick return for a touchdown on the ensuing kick-off. Fielding the Hunter Malsch boot at his own 1-yard line, Rountree broke right up the middle for the electrifying 99-yard run to put Millbrook ahead 31-19.
Anything Rountree could do, Northern Durham’s Jaylan Burton could do just as well. On the kick-off that followed the Millbrook return for a touchdown, Burton darted 96-yards through the Wildcat return team en route to taking the kick to the house to make it a one-score game once more at 31-25.
The Knights weren’t done from there as they stunned the Millbrook faithful with a game-tying touchdown halfway through the third quarter. Fenlon found Atkins up field, and the Northern running back glided in from 25-yards out to knot things up at 31-31. After having two kicks already blocked by Jayden Pauling, the Knights elected to go for two, and they failed which would turn out to be the start of a huge momentum shift.
Northern Durham would struggle on their next two offensive series as one ended in an interception from Juwan Manning, and the second ended with Manning and Tosin Adeoti tackling the Knights’ punter at his own 1-yard line following a high snap.
Larry Rountree would score in a much easier fashion as he put Millbrook ahead for good 38-31 with 10:19 left in regulation on a 1-yard touchdown run. Rountree leads the Cap-8 in touchdowns with nine so far this season, and he is second in rushing with 412 yards.
In need of a defensive stop or two to preserve the one touchdown lead, junior Tahmirr Anderson turned in a career-night down the stretch.
Just as it appeared that Northern Durham was going to string together a late game-tying drive, Anderson picked off Luke Fenlon and returned the ball 41-yards, and deep into Knight territory. The interception was the first of Anderson’s varsity career, and it led to Will Gentile’s 37-yard field that made it 41-31.
If the interception, and field goal were not enough of a dagger, Tahmirr Anderson and the defense left no doubt on three plays later as Nic Vinson forced a De’Shi Atkins fumble with 2:49 remaining in the game, and Anderson was right there to jump on top of the loose ball to seal the victory.
Millbrook moves to 3-1 on the season with the victory, Northern Durham falls to 1-3 with the defeat. The Wildcats will have a bye week next week before diving into Cap-8 Conference play on Friday September 23rd at Enloe. The Millbrook Maniac theme that night will be a “Pajama Night”.