Follow Sean Farrell on Twitter (@farrellfootball) for your football fix.
Farrell on Football is sponsored by TrueAP
(Dec. 12, 2013) – And then there was one.
After a banner year for Loudoun County high school football teams, with numerous local schools making the playoffs and Loudoun Valley and Broad Run enjoying at times magical forays deep into the postseason, just one school remains from the 13 that began the season with dreams of state championships. Winners of three straight state titles, it should come as no surprise that the Briar Woods Falcons (13-1) have once again found their way into the state title game.
But the Falcons will face perhaps their greatest challenge this Saturday in Charlottesville (Scott Stadium, Saturday, Dec. 14 at noon) when they take on the undefeated L.C. Bird Skyhawks (14-0), themselves a state champion last year and owners of the longest winning streak in the state. Can the Falcons overcome what some may perceive as long odds to bring home an unprecedented fourth straight championship?
Tale of the tape: Most local fans probably have a good idea about what Briar Woods brings to the table, so let’s start with Bird.
The Skyhawks are currently riding a 28-game winning streak, the longest in the state and a mantle they ascended to when Briar Woods lost in the regular season to North Stafford to end their own win streak. The Richmond-area school is still riding the good vibes of the school’s first ever football state championship, a title they won last year in a surprising, hard fought win over the high flying and highly touted Ocean Lakes Dolphins.
That win came in the state’s highest classification based on student enrollment, the Group 6A, but the squad now competes in the 5A classification with Briar Woods.
Bird basically barnstormed its way through the regular season, blowing the feathers off opponents. In three different games they scored at least 70-points. They scored less than 35-points in just one of those games, and in five shutouts outscored their opponents by a staggering margin of 268-0.
Leading that offensive charge has been running back Earl Hughes. The bruising tailback has rumbled, bumbled and stumbled his way to more than 2900 yards on the season, including an absurd 423 yard performance against Atlee earlier in the playoffs.
The playoffs have not been as lopsided for the Skyhawks, as they survived a myriad of penalties and their closest game of the season to escape with a 7-3 win over Salem last week. But even in the rare instances where the Bird offense has faltered this season, the defense has picked up the slack. Virginia Tech signee safety Shawn Payne and 300-plus pound defensive tackle Quadrick Barnes anchor a squad that surrendered less than five points a game in the regular season and not much more than that in the playoffs.
With three state titles in their back pockets, the Falcons have proven once again that they’re no slouches either.
After the early season loss to North Stafford, the Falcons finished out the regular season by winning six straight by a combined score of 266-36. Before the loss at North Stafford, the Falcons captured what may have been their most impressive, if at the time underrated, win of the season. Briar Woods claimed a 28-19 victory over 6A power Colonial Forge, a team that made it all the way to their respective state semifinals last week before losing to a nationally ranked Oscar Smith squad.
While Bird had a too close for comfort win last week in the playoffs, the Falcons enter the finals on the heels of back-to-back heart thumping and pulse pounding wins that tested every bit of the team’s mettle. Two weeks ago, the Falcons needed double overtime to overcome a furious rally by crosstown rival Broad Run, and last week the Falcons overcame six turnovers from Vanderbilt bound quarterback Trace McSorley, including a career high four interceptions, to hold off a surging and nearly miraculous comeback from the same North Stafford team that beat them earlier this year.
But even when he’s down, McSorley remains as the heart and soul, arms and legs, and leader and driving force behind everything the Falcons do. Even with four interceptions to his credit, McSorley still accounted for most of the Falcon offense, throwing three touchdown passes, gaining more yards on the ground than any other Falcon, and making key plays from his safety position on defense.
To capture their fourth state title in a row, the Falcons will need to avoid the turnovers and big plays from opposing offenses that have plagued them the last two games, and will need someone other than McSorley step up in the rushing game. Jordan Hinson and Anthony Martinez are the only Falcons to lead the team in rushing in a game this season whose last names don’t rhyme with “kick-poorly,” a feat they wrested from the load-bearing feet of the dual threat quarterback just four times all-season.
Can the Falcon defense step up to the challenge of stopping the Skyhawks devastating rushing attack?
Falcon faithful may have seen a glimpse of what a focused Falcon run defense is capable of last week. After giving up 250 yards and three touchdowns to North Stafford running back Von Purvis in their regular season loss, the Falcon front seven—led by players such as Bryan Capozzoli, Dominic Moore, Jacob Greeno, Jack Knight, and Jack Mercil—held Purvis to less than 75 rushing yards last week to help spur them to victory despite the deluge of turnovers.
Prediction: L.C. Bird is the best team the Falcons have faced this season, and may be the best team they’ve faced during their three-year run. The Falcons have surely overcome this recent spate of turnovers and will play a clean, relatively error free game this Saturday. Expect McSorley to connect with Brandon Polk for at least two big plays, and the Falcon defense to bend but not break in another close game for the Falcons, one that will see them bring another trophy to Ashburn, aka Titletown, VA.
Briar Woods 14 L.C. Bird 13.