The Panthers owned the first half, but it became the Huskies’ game.
Final score –
Tuscarora Huskies (7-0) 0 0 14 7 = 21
Potomac Falls Panthers (4-2) 7 7 0 6 = 20
1 / 2:42 – Potomac Falls TD (Brady Williams 32-yd pass to Grant Misch; Alex Nemer kick)
2 / 4:43 – Potomac Falls TD (Tommy Hardman 8-yd run; Alex Nemer kick)
3 / 2:56 – Tuscarora TD (James Douglas 2-yd run; Yassine Elmellouki kick)
3 / 0:23 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 80-yd pass to Nic Speroni; Yassine Elmellouki kick)
4 / 8:23 – Potomac Falls TD (Brady Williams 15-yd pass to Kaevon Chase; kick missed)
4 / 0:28 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 42-yd pass to Nic Speroni; Yassine Elmellouki kick)
Potomac Falls High School, Sterling, Va. (October 9, 2015) — This game is why fans shouldn’t leave their spots in the stadium before the last whistle. This game is why reporters shouldn’t write their lead until the story on the field has played out. This game is why the sport of football can be so amazingly gratifying – and, at the same time, so crushingly devastating.
Here’s my lead: The comeback-specialist Tuscarora Huskies spoiled the Potomac Falls Panthers‘ designs on a huge upset, finishing a 76-yard, three-minute, game-winning drive punctuated by Daniel Smith‘s 51-yard end-zone delivery to the waiting hands of Nic Speroni.
“Throughout the game they were playing cover-2,” Smith described. “I knew Speroni could beat them, that he was going to run by them, so I just waited for him to get on his toes and I just threw it up for him.”
Speroni said that seeing the ball coming toward him was “nerve-racking,” but when he caught it, “all’s well.”
With that drive, kept alive along the way by a pair of fourth-down conversions, the Dogs finally caught the Cats they’d been chasing all night long. A solid Yassine Elmellouki boot through the uprights later, and the unbeaten Huskies’ hopes of perfection were still alive.
“We expected to be 7-0 at this point,” Speroni stated. “We’ve had some tough games, Briar Woods, Centreville, Pot Falls. This was our hardest game we’ve had yet.”
That’s the lead. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The whole story: The Potomac Falls Panthers, inspired by a spirited home crowd, were just flat-out on fire for every moment of the 24 game-minutes in the first half. Their defense was disciplined, bending without breaking, coming up with key play upon key play by their aggressive and athletic secondary. Their offense was efficient, steady yet opportunistic, breaking through Tuscarora’s defense for a scoring drive each quarter.
The Panthers grabbed first points with their second possession, a 70-yard drive begun with a 45-yard Brady Williams completion to Kaevon Chase and capped with a 4th-&-17, 32-yard strike to Grant Misch, running a wheel route out of the backfield.
As the defense kept the Huskies at bay, gang-tackling Tuscarora’s hefty RB James Douglas, the Panthers’ offense pounced again. Tommy Hardman was the featured back on a 55-yard drive that Hardman finished himself, dashing eight yards around the left end.
Meanwhile, the defensive secondary for the Panthers was simply outstanding. Jamming the Husky receivers at the line and getting hands in front of passes before they could be caught was the modus operandi for Jack Mologne, Everett Quirk, Alex Nemer and Company.
When Nemer deflected a pass which, if received, would have converted a long fourth down and instead ended the first half, the purple-sea side of Panther Stadium roared in gleeful approval. Rightfully, the Potomac Falls fans doused their club with generous applause both going to and coming back from the halftime locker room.
It was perhaps the best half of football the Panthers have played, or the Huskies have had played against them, in quite a long time.
“We knew we were in for a tough game. They’re a tough matchup for us,” Tuscarora head coach Michael Burnett said. “This is a different Potomac Falls team [from recent years]. They’re a well-coached team and they executed the plays.”
The Huskies – deservedly last year’s Group 5A runner-up and, at 6-0 coming into the Panthers’ den, seeking more of same this year – were undaunted. With the first hike of the second half, Tuscarora reset the tone of the game.
“At halftime we were all a little mad. We didn’t feel like we executed very well or played very well,” Smith said. “When we were walking back out, I was with Taj and he was talking to himself. I told him, ‘I need you here.'”
Smith’s first act of the third quarter was to hand off to Taj Malave-Neely, who zoomed 36 yards to midfield, more than doubling the Huskies’ longest play on the night. Tuscarora drove to the 11-yard line, but a bobbled pass at the goal-line kept their goose egg whole.
Still, the Huskies’ powerful offense had awakened. With good field position after holding the Panthers to a three-and-out, Smith threw two quick passes to take it to the 2, then stuffed it into Douglas’s ample midsection. The 230-pound wrecking ball powered into the end zone for the Huskies’ first score.
Their next possession began with a simple out pass to Speroni, a play meant to gain a few yards on first down. But when the senior turned upfield, all he saw was green grass and all the Panthers saw were the blue 8s on the back of his white jersey. An unfortunate tackling angle toward the ball carrier resulted in a surprise 80-yard score and a suddenly tied game going to the final quarter.
“Normally it’s supposed to get a couple yards, but I turned to the outside and,” Speroni recounted, “hit the jets.”
Potomac Falls’ offense kept up the pressure. With Misch and Kash Jackson finding increased running room, the field opened up for Williams to launch a beautiful touchdown pass to Chase, with the senior QB lofting it to where only Chase could get it, sliding on his knees to basket it in.
The delirium of the home crowd, however, was damped down when a bad snap caused the missed extra point that became the game’s difference.
The two sides traded fruitless possessions, and the Huskies got the ball on their own 24-yard line with 3:38 to play and six points to make up. The first three plays did little, but Smith scrambled to convert a 4th-&-6. They soon faced a 4th-&-3 and Smith improvised a stretching dive to reach it by a hair.
The ball was nearly in the exact middle of the gridiron’s great rectangle, and the Huskies broke the huddle. The entire stadium rocked with intensity. There was much less than a minute on the clock.
Smith dropped back, looking deep. He sidestepped one rusher and nearly slipped; he swung, dosedo-style, with his jersey in the grasp of another. The senior signal-caller stayed on his feet and kept his eyes downfield, where things were happening.
He saw what he wanted to see, planted and launched. What he saw was Speroni getting separation and heading for the front of the end zone. That’s where the pass came down for Speroni to catch with 28 seconds left.
“We have Daniel,” said Burnett, proudly, of Smith. “He doesn’t panic.”
The game was effectively ended when Williams’ desperation heave was intercepted by Jonathan Roebuck at the two-yard marker with seven ticks on the clock.
In the contest’s aftermath – the Huskies’ third come-from-behind victory this season – Burnett told his players he was “much more proud than you probably imagine.”
“The greatest thing for me tonight is the character they showed,” Burnett then told reporters. “There were a lot of chances to quit tonight, but these kids don’t feel that way. The enthusiasm, the support for each other, that’s what’s going to make me proud because that’s what they’ll need to be good husbands, fathers, businessmen, everything in the world.”
After a mentally exhausting Conference 14 battle, both teams take to the road for their next challenges. The Huskies will look for 8-0 in Alexandria where they’ll face Edison, while the Panthers make the trip to Brambleton for a showdown with a dangerously struggling Briar Woods team.
Pre-Game Flashes of Brilliance
The opening kickoff was delayed 53 minutes due to lightning in the area. Still, the pre-game festivities included a sterling rendition of the national anthem, jointly performed by the marching bands of Potomac Falls High School and neighboring River Bend Middle School.
Potomac Falls stats –
Rushing: Tommy Hardman 6-41, 1 TD; Kash Jackson 10-38; Grant Misch 9-29; Jon Lewis 1-7; Brady Williams 4-(-10)
Passing: Brady Williams 7 of 15 for 129, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Receiving: Kaevon Chase 3-73, 1 TD; Tommy Hardman 3-24; Grant Misch 1-32, 1 TD
Tuscarora stats –
Rushing: James Douglas 22-93, 1 TD; Taj Malave-Neely 7-46; Daniel Smith 8-41
Passing: Daniel Smith 14 of 24 for 206, 2 TDs
Receiving: Nic Speroni 6-159, 2 TDs; Jonathan Roebuck 2-25; Taj Malave-Neely 3-9; Gunnar Biebighauser 1-9; Jeremy Sampson 1-3; James Douglas 1-1
Other scores –
John Champe 49, Rock Ridge 7
Dominion 41, Loudoun County 0
Heritage 54, Park View 3
Woodgrove 56, Freedom 3
Broad Run 51, Yorktown 3
Robinson 27, Stone Bridge 20
George Mason 60, Riverside 37
Westfield 36, Briar Woods 0
Loudoun Valley 58, John Handley 6 (Sat.)
Off weeks for: None
VivaLoudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Jason S Rufner
for Viva Loudoun Media Communications