By a score of eight touchdowns to six, Stone Bridge gets the better of Tuscarora for the region crown and the state berth.
Final score –
Stone Bridge Bulldogs (10-4) 14 21 7 12 = 54
Tuscarora Huskies (13-1) 7 14 0 20 = 41
1 / 4:52 – Stone Bridge TD (Joe Thompson 6-yd pass to Brett Smedley; Tyler Alcorn kick)
1 / 2:23 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 1-yd run; Yassine Elmellouki kick)
1 / 1:36 – Stone Bridge TD (Joe Thompson 11-yd run; Tyler Alcorn kick)
2 / 9:35 – Stone Bridge TD (Chase Ridley 8-yd run; Tyler Alcorn kick)
2 / 3:58 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 28-yd pass to Gunnar Biebighauser; Yassine Elmellouki kick)
2 / 2:37 – Stone Bridge TD (Joe Thompson 1-yd run; Tyler Alcorn kick)
2 / 0:50 – Stone Bridge TD (Chase Ridley 5-yd run; Tyler Alcorn kick)
2 / 0:00 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 43-yd pass to Nic Speroni, Yassine Elmellouki kick)
3 / 0:12 – Stone Bridge TD (Joe Thompson 18-yd run; Tyler Alcorn kick)
4 / 11:23 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 34-yd run; Yassine Elmellouki kick)
4 / 8:45 – Stone Bridge TD (Joe Thompson 21-yd pass to Dewayne Winston; Tyler Alcorn kick missed)
4 / 8:13 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 19-yd pass to Nic Speroni; Yassine Elmellouki kick)
4 / 3:34 – Stone Bridge TD (Joe Thompson 11-yd pass to Brett Smedley; Joe Thompson 2-pt pass failed)
4 / 1:06 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 1-yd run; Daniel Smith 2-pt pass failed)
Tuscarora High School, Leesburg, Va. (December 4, 2015) — We promised they’d be on top of their games. We promised they’d put up points like basketball on turf. We promised a Loudoun-centric playoff showdown for the ages. We promised it would be huge.
We promised. They delivered.
The madness that was the Region 5A North championship football game between the visiting Bulldogs of Stone Bridge High School and the homestanding Huskies of Tuscarora High School began before the parking lot was even within reach. Vehicles by the hundreds poured – well, trickled, really – onto Tuscarora’s sprawling pastoral campus north of downtown Leesburg, bunching up at intersections far in advance of the school’s site. If you weren’t parked and walking gateward by a half-hour prior to kickoff, you probably didn’t get to see kickoff.
Once inside the confines of Fortune Field, the scene was wild all around. The Stone Bridge side waved white hankies at the arrival of their guys, while the Huskies’ cheerleaders got their massive crowd going with chants of “Tusky…Terror!” On the cold, clear, windless Friday night, in spite of visible condensation emitting from every yelling face, the place was in full party mode.
As it should have been. The resurgent and streaking Bulldogs, fresh off upsetting the region’s top seed, were prepared to battle the formidable and unblemished Huskies, now the highest seed remaining – and a spot in the state game lay on the line. The fans were so ready.
It turned out the players were, too.
Fourteen touchdowns, six through the air and eight over the ground, piling up 95 points from 968 yards of total offense. Five times, the Huskies and Bulldogs traded tallies within 90 seconds of each other. And yes, with four turnovers, three fumbles and five tackles for loss, defense was played too. Blink, and you missed something.
In the end, the last dogs standing were from Stone Bridge.
The offensive onslaught didn’t ignite with the first strike. After Stone Bridge converted two fourth-downs in the contest’s initial drive, the Huskies halted them when Elijah Moore swatted Joe Thompson‘s shot to goal-land in search of Chase Ridley. The Bulldogs equalized, holding Tuscarora to one first down on its first possession. Then the fun began.
Operating from his head coaching father’s famed single-wing formation, Thompson took to the skies, finding Brett Smedley for a 38-yard gain, then checking down to backfieldmate Joshua Breece for 24 yards to reach the Husky 5. After the Bulldogs’ Dewayne Winston
recovered the game’s first fumble, Thompson again threw, connecting with Smedley as he dragged toward the left side of the end zone, a step ahead of his defender.
The lid was thus popped, and both dogteams got in on the feeding frenzy.
Tuscarora came back with its own aerial talents, as Daniel Smith hit Cody Washington for a midfield-crossing first down, then lofted one to favorite target Nic Speroni, whose defender handballed it up a few feet in the air before he corralled it at the 1. Smith was stopped with his first plunge attempt, straight up the gut, so on his second try he took one step to his left and dove it in. Tied 7-7.
Stone Bridge wasted no time taking the lead back, pulling off a 57-yard drive in under 50 seconds, aided by Ridley’s option pass to Lawton Riggs to take it well into Tuscarora’s red zone. That set up Thompson’s 11-yard run to paydirt, skipping past a tackle attempt to hop across the goal-line.
“It was throwing the ball out of the single wing,” said Thompson. “We figured if we could throw the ball out of the single wing, get some play-action, that would open up the run, and we were really successful at that.”
On the Huskies’ side of the 50, Smith found himself scrambling to his left. The right-hander threw across his body down the sideline, where Breece stepped in front for the defensive interception. A few plays later, on 4th-&-3 from the 28, Breece sprinted wide left and turned it up for 19 yards. Ridley took it in from eight yards out soon after, giving ground before getting it back and speeding to the pylon.
Masters of the comeback all season long, the Huskies were undaunted. From their own 19, the home team marched down the field with four first downs, forcing Stone Bridge into a breath-catching timeout. On 4th-&-4 from the Bulldog 28, Smith zipped it to Gunnar Biebighauser in the middle of the field, and the junior wideout obliged by catching it, turning and splitting the Stone Bridge secondary the other 15 yards.
Though less than four minutes showed on the brilliantly lit Fortune Field scoreboard, we had three more touchdowns before the half was over.
Starting from their own 16, the Bulldogs hit the jets. Thompson nailed Winston for 35 yards, commencing a lightning-fast touchdown drive that went 83 yards on four plays, ending with Thompson pushing his offensive line one yard into the zone. Back up 14.
Next play from scrimmage, Smith ran to the left, only to be met by a determined senior linebacker by the name of Jackson Brown. Brown caused Smith to fumble and Nick McIntyre promptly recovered it, setting Stone Bridge up in prime scoring position.
Ridley did the honors a few plays later, going left while everyone else went right and zooming untouched to the end zone. Fifty seconds before intermission, the Bulldogs’ lead elevated to 21.
“We knew they’d seen our film against Massaponax, that we ran outside with our quarterback. So we thought we could get some counters going the back way with Chase and Josh, our big playmakers,” Riggs said. “I thought that worked really well, and we got some deep plays down the field with some play-action, and that opened up a lot for us.”
From their own 27, the Huskies earned two time-saving first downs on sideline plays, putting them 43 yards away with not one, but two whole seconds on the clock. Smith took the shotgun snap, eluded one rusher, stepped up and to the left, and unleashed a bomb. Speroni tracked it, crossed the goal-line and outjumped two defenders to answer the Hail-Mary prayer. The crowd went wild.
Stone Bridge 35, Tuscarora 21, half. We weren’t remotely done.
Opening the third quarter, the Huskies turned methodical. Thanks to Smith’s finds of Washington and Speroni, and the hard-nosed running of bruising senior back James Douglas, Tuscarora converted three fourth downs on a drive that soaked up nine of the frame’s 12 minutes. A holding penalty on an apparent touchdown pushed a 3rd-&-goal from the 2 to the 13, and the time-consuming possession came up empty.
“That was devastating,” said Tuscarora head coach Michael Burnett. “We still had to get a stop, but at that point that momentum shift was huge. But, you know, this game didn’t come down to one or two plays.”
With the ball, the lead and time slipping away into the ever-chillier night, Stone Bridge took to the ground. Ridley busted off runs of 20 and 27 yards, setting up Thompson’s 18-yard dash to the goal.
So, it was Tuscarora’s turn. Fueled by a pair of first-down Biebighauser receptions, Smith engineered a 65-yard drive culminating in his own 34-yard touchdown scamper, helped by some noticeably excellent downfield blocking. Back to a two-tally differential with just over 11 minutes (and, it turned out, four more scores) still to go.
The Huskies’ defense turned up the heat. Thompson was hit hard on the first play of Stone Bridge’s subsequent possession, fumbling and recovering the ball. The senior signal-caller gingerly went to the sideline, fears of his mid-season ankle injury crossing the minds of Bulldog-partial onlookers.
But he returned one play later, immediately rushing five yards for a first down around midfield, and showed no gimpiness the rest of the way. Soon, the soon-to-be Division I quarterback flung it to Winston at the 10 near the sideline, and the senior speedster juked and jived his way to the house. Tyler Alcorn‘s extra-point try clanged the left post and off.
Then – you guessed it – the Huskies stormed right back. Smith executed consecutive quick strikes to mastermind a sudden, 71-yard, 30-second touchdown drive, lobbing it over Speroni’s shoulder and watching his senior wide receiver drag a Bulldog into the end zone with him. The home team’s deficit was trimmed to 13.
Tuscarora managed its undefeated campaign on the strength of four remarkable comeback efforts, and it looked as though magic was in the air again when Ridley, off on a long run, was tracked down from behind by Kyle Disch, whose forced fumble was picked up by Jeremy Sampson. But Smith issued an interception to safety Joe LeMaster, giving the football back to the Bulldogs on the Husky 44.
On the Husky 11, Thompson dropped back, threw and dropped it directly into the hands of Stone Bridge’s No. 11, the Smedley touchdown catch looking very much like the one the two authored in their first scoring connection. The two-point conversion pass then landed uncaught, and the lead was 19.
Not that you’d think they were, but the Huskies weren’t done fighting. Smith found Biebighauser to flip a fourth down, then handed off to Douglas to convert another. The 65-yard drive concluded with Smith’s dive across the plane.
With some 60 ticks left, Riggs secured the on-side kick and the victory for the Bulldogs. A pair of knees was all that separated Stone Bridge from unbridled jubilation.
Whooping. Hollering. Jumping and hugging. The only way to describe how the Bulldogs celebrated the final seconds was Total and Utter Joy.
“We’re just ecstatic, man,” Winston said. “Honestly, it means so much to me and I know it mean so much to this team that we’ve made this run this year. This is my family. These are my brothers.”
His quarterback concurred.
“It’s incredible. You say, we’re making our return to the state championship, that this is our year. You think you can do it, but doing it, it’s just surreal,” Thompson said. “This unit, from the beginning of the year to now, just completely different. The team chemistry, everyone’s so much closer. In the locker room, in practice, it’s just completely different football team. We’re such a close football team, and it’s a great feeling to win it with all these guys.”
Presented with the Region 5A North trophy, Stone Bridge head coach Mickey Thompson took about a quarter of a second to turn it over to his ravenous players, who roared and backclapped and posed for the cameras. Then the Bulldogs raced to their throng of excited fans, slapping a long row of high-fives from across the fence.
Thompson felt his team tackled and blocked better than they had in a blowout loss to the Huskies Oct. 23.
“I felt like we made them earn everything they got, and I think that was the difference-maker,” said the only head football coach in Stone Bridge history. “I think our guys realized how good a football team they are. The whole season was a matter of finding the right guys in the right places…so it’s a matter of finding your rhythm and getting guys ready in the end. That’s what we kept saying: It doesn’t matter what our record is, it matters what kind of football you’re playing in the end. I think they know they’re good now. We’re a good football team.”
The result grants Stone Bridge its first berth in a state title tilt since 2012, seeking a partner for the statewide trophy the Bulldogs captured in 2007.
“Good luck to the Bulldogs,” came the congratulations from Tuscarora’s public address. “Go represent Loudoun.”
Tuscarora was denied a consecutive invite to the biggest dance, and a shot at the school’s first state championship. But that wasn’t the focus of Burnett’s postgame comments.
“These seniors have meant everything. That’s why I do this job,” Burnett said. “You get these great relationships with kids and you get to spend a lot of time with them. That’s the only sadness, is that that comes to an end. But we have another group coming up, and we’ll put in the time with them and hope that they live up to the standard that these kids have set for this program the last two years.”
Smith said he thought another comeback could be in the works. But the senior Division I quarterback prospect expressed pride in a program into which he transferred for his sophomore year – a move he said he never regretted.
“All year we’ve been undersized, kind of doubted since the beginning. But with these dudes, you wouldn’t know it,” he said. “You’d think that we were the superiors, so much confidence all the time, just believing in what we can do.”
Smith said he figures he’ll keep friendships he’s forged through Tuscarora football “for the next 30 years.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better senior class to do this with. The greatest guys, the best teammates,” he said. “And with our underclassmen, this program’s going to be good for the next few years…. Coach Burnett’s got a good thing going here.”
As the Huskies filed off Fortune Field, their fans and classmates burst into an unprompted cheer.
“Thank you, seen-yurs!” rang melodically out into the Leesburg air.
The Huskies take Honolulu
As they readied their instruments to intone the opening strains of The Stars and Stripes, it was announced that the Marching Huskies, the Tuscarora High School band, would be boarding a Hawai’i-bound plane Dec. 6. They were scheduled for more of a business trip than a pleasure cruise, as the Tusky music-makers will be featured Dec. 7 in the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade.
Information about the event, which bills itself as a remembrance of America’s past and a celebration of its future, is at PearlHarborParade.org.
Stone Bridge stats –
Rushing: Chase Ridley 8-111, 2 TDs; Joe Thompson 20-100, 3 TDs; Joshua Breece 5-32; Dewayne Winston 4-24
Passing: Joe Thompson 13 of 19 for 211, 3 TDs; Chase Ridley 1-27
Receiving: Dewayne Winston 4-83, 1 TD; Lawton Riggs 3-56; Brett Smedley 3-55, 1 TD; Joshua Breece 2-28; Chase Ridley 1-16
Tuscarora stats –
Rushing: Daniel Smith 19-80, 3 TDs; James Douglas 19-64
Passing: Daniel Smith 22 of 40 for 319, 3 TDs, 2 INTs
Receiving: Gunnar Biebighauser 8-127, 1 TD; Nic Speroni 6-117, 2 TDs; James Douglas 5-45; Cody Washington 2-19; Jonathan Roebuck 1-11
Next round (VHSL 5A Championship) –
Stone Bridge vs. Highland Springs (13-1)
Scott Stadium, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Saturday, Dec. 12, 12:07 pm
VivaLoudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Jason S Rufner
for Viva Loudoun Media Communications