Huge fourth-down conversion propels Tuscarora to huger victory.
Final score –
Briar Woods Falcons (0-1) 8 8 0 0 = 16
Tuscarora Huskies (1-0) 7 7 0 8 = 22
1 / 5:46 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 30-yd pass to Bryce Sorrell; Finley Underhill kick)
1 / 0:00 – Briar Woods TD (D’Andre Thomas 7-yd run; Brendan Johnson 2-pt run)
2 / 5:37 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 1-yd run; Finley Underhill kick)
2 / 0:03 – Briar Woods TD (D’Andre Thomas 22-yd run; Bradley Block 2-pt run)
4 / 2:39 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 1-yd run; Danny Smith 2-pt run)
Tuscarora High School, Leesburg, Va. (August 28, 2015) — The first day of school for the kids of Loudoun County may be Monday, but a few student-athletes took an early test last Friday.
The Huskies of Tuscarora High School passed the test, coming from behind to earn a huge early-season intra-conference win over the Falcons of Briar Woods High School – and they did it with the passing ability of a star pupil, Daniel Smith.
Trailing 16-14 in the late stages of the last quarter, senior quarterback Smith and the Husky offense faced a 4th-and-14 challenge from the Falcons’ 30 – and the very real prospect that, with less than three minutes on the clock, not converting would mean not winning.
That’s when a little magic came to Fortune Field.
After they’d acquired excellent field position thanks to their own defense, the Huskies’ offense had gone backwards on three successive plays, taking them beyond field-goal range for Finley Underhill‘s strong left leg.
With failure to gain 14 yards implying likely defeat, Smith set up the offense. From the shotgun, he took the snap and looked downfield. Briar Woods came with a rush, forcing Smith to step up and to the right as the pocket broke down.
As a Falcon defender surged at his blind side, Smith lofted the ball to the middle of the goal line with a simple wrist-flick. The parabola arced through the clear night air, descending toward two sets of grasping hands. The hands belonging to a Husky, Bryce Sorrell, snatched the ball out of the air and wrapped it up in secured possession.
With a defender draped over him, Sorrell caught it at the 2 and dove to the 1, saving the day for the home team and sending the Tuscarora fans into fits of uproarious cheering.
“Before the play even started, I was looking for him,” Smith recalled. “He was one-on-one with a linebacker, and Bryce can move. So I was waiting for him to open up, and I saw him come across the field, and I kind of flicked it to him and he made a great catch with a guy all over him. Gotta give props to him; that was a big-time catch.”
At the next snap, Smith followed his offensive line in a dive across the goalline, and the Huskies took back their lead with 2:39 remaining. It held up when Tuscarora’s defense kept Briar Woods’ offense from any forward progress in its final drive, and the Huskies claimed a mega-important victory in the Potomac District and Conference 14 standings.
“It’s good to have this one behind us,” said a relieved Michael Burnett, Tuscarora head coach, in the showdown’s aftermath.
Burnett spoke particularly highly of his defense, which held Briar Woods to zero points and 31 yards rushing in the second half. Senior defensive back Anthony Page was frequently noticeable, breaking up pass attempts and making tackles in run support.
“I thought all of our defensive backs did a great job,” Burnett said. “They kept everything in front of them, came up and made tackles. I thought that was really the difference.”
Defense was just a rumor at the start of the showdown. The first quarter witnessed just two drives, one per team, both ending in touchdown scores. Tuscarora tallied first when Smith dropped back, checked down and found Sorrell running free down the left hashmark, punctuating a time-consuming possession with six points.
That score was made possible by 230-pound senior bowling ball James Douglas, a transfer in his first year with Tuscarora. Lining up at fullback, Douglas plowed for a short fourth-down conversion to keep the drive alive.
(Nimble and beefy, Douglas will provide the Huskies with the thunder to go with the lightning of fellow transfer Taj Malave-Neely, a 160-pound scatback. Malave-Neely later broke off a 57-yard scamper that was negated by penalty.)
The Falcons answered on their first opportunity. Junior quarterback D’Andre Thomas, a varsity rookie, relied on his legs to matriculate the ball down the field, culminating in an improvised dash to paydirt as the first quarter ran out. Briar Woods took advantage of an extra-point penalty to grab two more points.
Tuscarora came right back, feeding the Briar Woods defense a steady diet of Douglas. The hefty back nearly drove it home himself, but Smith did the honors with a very short sneak straight up the middle, taking the lead back.
The contest seesawed again in the late moments of the first half. Set up at the Tuscarora 33 by a fumble recovery, Thomas had one long scoring scramble called back by penalty before pulling off a similar trick, zigzagging in from 22 yards out, three seconds before halftime.
Those would become the last positive yards the Briar Woods quarterback gained on the ground that night. The Husky defense adjusted, prohibiting Thomas from effectively using his legs. Junior wideout Ben Maffe, moved to quarterback in the wildcat formation for much of the second half, busted out a few decent runs, but post-halftime offense for the Falcons was virtually nonexistent.
“We definitely made a commitment that we had to stop their quarterback. He’s a tough kid, he’s tall, he killed us in the first half,” said Burnett of Thomas. “We made the decision that we were going to make somebody else beat us. That was our biggest adjustment, that we had to take away their quarterback.”
In a game Burnett termed “sloppy” due to it being the season opener, the two squads combined for 15 penalties, with Briar Woods getting whistled for eight of those.
It was a rare instance when the loser of the turnover battle became the winner of the game. Tuscarora gave the ball to their guests twice, while Briar Woods did not cough it up even once to the Huskies.
The huge season-opening clash resulted from mutual agreement between Burnett and Briar Woods head coach Charlie Pierce. The two veteran helmsmen opted to take each other on early and save their bye weeks for deeper in the slate.
“You almost don’t want two of the top teams in the area playing Week 1, because it’s a little sloppy,” Burnett said. “I could give you a list of everything we did wrong, but to be honest it’s a typical Week 1 game. It’s just tough when you’re going against a really good opponent.”
The senior quarterback summed up the evening’s results with a single word: Huge.
“We needed this win tonight,” Smith said. “If we lose, we start behind in the conference. This game was huge for getting a head start on everyone else…. My heart was pounding, but that was one of the most fun games I’ve ever played on this field.”
Tuscarora stats –
Rushing: James Douglas 20-101; Taj Malave-Neely 11-64; Daniel Smith 8-31, 2 TDs; Jeremy Sampson 1-1
Passing: Daniel Smith 6 of 11 for 80, 1 TD
Receiving: Bryce Sorrell 2-59, 1 TD; Cody Washington 2-17; Jeremy Sampson 1-8; James Douglas 1-(-4)
Briar Woods stats –
Rushing: D’Andre Thomas 12-76, 2 TDs; Ben Maffe 8-38; Takiyul Johnson 3-12; Julian Posas 2-2; Bradley Block 2-1; Josh Thomas 1-(-5)
Passing: D’Andre Thomas 9 of 18 for 68
Receiving: Josh Thomas 6-34; Mekhail White 1-17; Mark Birmingham 1-11; Kyle Robey 1-6
Other scores –
John Champe 20, Woodgrove 17 (OT)
Rock Ridge 29, Riverside 28 (OT)
Broad Run 28, Potomac Falls 7
Park View 26, Manassas Park 21
Freedom 21, Fluvanna County 20
Dominion 12, Charlottesville 6
Loudoun Valley 33, Kettle Run 6
Heritage 55, James Wood 21
Fauquier 23, Loudoun County 20
Off-week for: Stone Bridge
VivaLoudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Jason S Rufner
for Viva Loudoun Media Communications