LEESBURG — Loudoun County quarterback Nick Barts couldn’t have started much better against Millbrook’s defense on Thursday night — two passes, 70 yards and a touchdown giving the Raiders a lead just 19 seconds into the game.
Loudoun County (2-0) would race to a 26-0 lead and hold off a furious second-half rally by the Pioneers as the Raiders won a wild 49-28 contest.
“It hurts everybody that has a slow start like that,” Pioneers coach Josh Haymore said.
Gavin Evosirch fueled Millbrook’s comeback throwing for 187 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 102 yards, but the Pioneers could not dig themselves all of the way out of their first-half deficit.
“It was huge,” Loudoun County coach Tony Rayburn said of his team’s start, which included a pair of touchdown runs by Josh Pettiford that were set up by Barts’ arm and a 70-yard interception return by Matthew St. Onge. “Millbrook is obviously a great team and we know they have some injuries. Getting ahead of them gave our kids some confidence. I told them at halftime that a team like this is not going to sit there and take a pounding. They are going to come back and answer and they did.”
Millbrook’s comeback actually started before the break, right after St. Onge’s return with about a minute left before halftime.
Evosirch drove the Pioneers 80 yards in less than a minute, running twice for 26 yards and completing a pair of passes. He stepped up in the pocket and split the seam to Jordan Jackson, who twisted into the end zone with one second on the clock to make it 26-6 before the break.
Having had little success running the ball in the first half, the Pioneers came out in a spread formation after the break, with running back Noah Robinson lined up as a slot receiver. Evosirch found gaps in the Loudoun County defense and ran eight times in a 66-yard march. Robinson capped the march with a two-yard TD run and two-point conversion to make it 26-14.
But Barts had an answer. He completed 4 of 5 passes in a 57-yard drive, capping it with a 3-yard fade to Derek McCandless to make the score 33-14.
Millbrook drove 76 yards to the Loudoun County 4 on its next drive before being halted, but the Pioneers were far from being done.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Evosirch once again found Jackson open, this time for a 37-yard scoring strike to make the score 33-20.
On Loudoun County’s second play after the kickoff, Robinson stripped the ball away from Barts on a sack and the Pioneers recovered. Two plays later, Evosirch stepped away from pressure and hit Tyrek Talley streaking through the middle of the Raiders defense for a 53-yard score. Robinson’s conversion run made it 33-28 with 9:22 left.
The contest was then decided on a couple of key bounces of the ball.
With third-and-1 from the Millbrook 32, Pettiford fumbled. A Millbrook player had a chance to pick it up and/or fall on the ball, but it slipped away and the Raiders recovered.
Freshman punter Jimmy Kibble, son of the former Virginia Tech and NFL player Jimmy Kibble, then pinned the Pioneers at the 3.
On first down, Robinson couldn’t handle the shotgun snap and then fell on it in the end zone for a safety.
After the free kick, Loudoun County took over at its 48. Following an incompletion, Barts hit three straight, the final one a dump over the middle to Tariq Sims, who scampered 22 yards for a score to make it 42-28 with 5:19 to go.
“After we got that safety we really needed a momentum change because they were starting to come back and playing good football,” said Barts. “That touchdown we scored after that was probably the most important touchdown we scored all night.”
The Raiders, who fell 47-7 to Millbrook last season, would get the ball back again with 3:22 left. After two running plays, Barts tossed a 36-yard strike to Joseph Groves on third down to the Millbrook 5. After a run for no gain and a Pioneer timeout, Barts flipped a swing pass to Sims out of the backfield who sped in for the final score.
“We found the toughness to overcome their comeback,” said Rayburn, in his third season since moving on from Handley. “I’m proud of our kids. That was a big win for them.”
Barts completed passes to six different receivers. Kibble caught the first scoring pass, a 27-yarder.
“They’re outstanding,” Barts said of his receiving corps. “I can’t even describe how much in words they mean to me. … They get themselves open and all I’ve got to do is throw the ball.”
So far this season, Barts, the reigning Dulles District Offensive Player of the Year, has completed 40 of 49 passes for more than 600 yards.
“He does a great job of reading the defense, making the read and getting rid of the ball,” Rayburn said. “He’s got such a quick release and he’s a big strong kid.”
Evosirch had quite a night as well, both rushing and throwing (10 for 20, no interceptions). He also returned the final kickoff of the game 73 yards to the Loudoun County 12.
“I thought he played really well,” Haymore said of Evosirch. “… The kids fought and everybody fought in the second half.”
The Raiders did an excellent job on Robinson, who rushed for 201 yards and three long touchdowns in the Pioneers’ season-opening win over Jefferson (W.Va.). Robinson had 52 yards on 21 carries Thursday.
“We kept the big play away from them,” Rayburn said of the Pioneers’ ground attack. “They had a couple of big passes and those were good adjustments by their coaches. Again, we responded and did what we needed to do.”
Jackson had six catches for 101 yards for the Pioneers, who play at Washington (W.Va.) on Sept. 7.
“We need to get better,” Haymore said.
— Contact Walt Moody at