Tuscarora strikes early and often, dealing Stone Bridge a loss of historic proportions.
Final score –
Stone Bridge Bulldogs (4-4) 7 0 6 6 = 19
Tuscarora Huskies (9-0) 14 14 14 0 = 42
1 / 4:22 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 1-yd run; Yassine Elmellouki kick)
1 / 3:11 – Stone Bridge TD (Joshua Breece 54-yd run; Tyler Alcorn kick)
1 / 1:33 – Tuscarora TD (James Douglas 40-yd run; Yassine Elmellouki kick)
2 / 7:23 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 46-yd run; Yassine Elmellouki kick)
2 / 0:22.8 – Tuscarora TD (Taj Malave-Neely 6-yd run; Yassine Elmellouki kick)
3 / 11:20 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 36-yd pass to Nic Speroni; kick blocked)
3 / 7:47 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 90-yd pass to Jonathan Roebuck; Daniel Smith 2-pt pass to Nic Speroni)
3 / 2:12 – Stone Bridge TD (Easton Turner 5-yd pass to Brett Smedley; 2-pt run failed)
4 / 6:41 – Stone Bridge TD (Easton Turner 14-yd pass to Chase Ridley; kick missed)
Tuscarora High School, Leesburg, Va. (October 23, 2015) — This just in: Tuscarora High School has a very, very good football team. Details to follow.
We bore witness to plenty of history being made Friday night. It was the first regular-season meeting ever between the Huskies of Tuscarora and the Bulldogs of Stone Bridge. It was the first duel between two of the region’s most acclaimed head coaches in Stone Bridge’s Mickey Thompson and Tuscarora’s Michael Burnett. And, it was the most lopsided defeat suffered by the perennial power Bulldogs…perhaps of all time.
Halfway through the third quarter, the scoreboard at Fortune Field blazed 42-7 and its clock, by rule, was set to running mode. It was the first time the Bulldogs had been on the wrong side of a running clock – as far as I can determine – ever.
Let me briefly editorialize here: This game’s score doesn’t provide a precise measure of the two teams’ relative abilities. Stone Bridge is not, I believe, 23 points worse than Tuscarora. I’m hardly alone in thinking that: Both head coaches were seemingly taken aback by the disparate totals the combatants put up.
“Because of [Stone Bridge’s] program, they’re going to be incredibly well-coached and incredibly strong, that much I know,” Burnett said. “It’s hard to get to that point, but I think we’re there now.”
Thompson saw chances go unfulfilled when his team’s playmakers didn’t produce their usual big plays.
“I just didn’t think we played well at all,” Thompson said. “You’ve got to give them credit. We missed some opportunities that could have maybe changed things, but ultimately, they just played a lot better than we did. It was one of the tougher performances for us [in 15 years], because I think we got outplayed.”
Only rarely has Thompson had reason to use that word about his own team, and with his long-established history of winning, he’s unlikely to use it again. Stone Bridge is still Stone Bridge, still fearsome and dangerous, still loaded with athletes. The Bulldogs were without star senior quarterback Joe Thompson, a future Division I signal-caller. Had he been central to the proceedings, things would have proceeded quite differently.
But things went the way they did because Tuscarora is, as mentioned, a really, really good football team. They execute fabulously well and combine sound fundamentals with gifted talent on both sides of the ball. The program graduated arguably the state’s best player (Noah Reimers) a year ago, and they might be a better all-around team than they were then. The Huskies are rich with difference-makers, including the thunder of big back James Douglas and the lightning of speedy, shifty Taj Malave-Neely. Both brought A-games to Tuscarora’s Stone Bridge showdown.
No difference-maker is more crucial to the Huskies than senior QB Daniel Smith, and that dog was up to his usual tricks against the visitors from Ashburn. The Ivy League candidate leapt over the line for one score, made a long mad dash for another and threw for two more. Meantime he was the model of efficiency, missing on his tosses just twice and absorbing only one sack (by Stone Bridge’s Daniel Renaud). Smith was a major reason why the Huskies had all the points they would need by the seven-minute mark of the second quarter.
Huskies win the dogfight
Tuscarora’s first half was almost clinic-worthy. The Huskies ripped off touchdown drives on three consecutive possessions and four of five, then notched TDs the first two times they had the ball in the second half.
The game began with an exchange of punts until finally Smith got the Huskies off on the right foot. He hit Jeremy Sampson for a 43-yard advancement to inside the 1-yard line, then broad-jumped the remainder.
Stone Bridge’s response was virtually immediate. From just beyond midfield, junior RB Joshua Breece took a direct snap, spun as if to hand off, kept it and bolted right through Tuscarora’s first and only line of defense, outracing chasers down the field for the tie.
After that, it was all the homestanding Huskies.
Douglas rumbled to the left side for a long scoring run, picking up some adept downfield blocking. Then – after the Tuscarora defense halted Breece on a 4th-&-1 – Smith showed his surprising speed when he deftly swam through traffic, stiff-armed a defender and suddenly accelerated to the distant paydirt.
With time dwindling in the opening half, Douglas suffered an injured leg when tackled, limping gingerly off, not to return. His smaller running mate, Malave-Neely – 70 pounds lighter than Douglas’s 230 – did his best James Douglas impersonation soon after, breaking a tackle to surge into the end zone for a 28-7 halftime Husky lead.
Tuscarora bookended halftime with TDs, thanks to a 34-yard run by Malave-Neely in front of a 36-yard lob from Smith to Nic Speroni for a two-play, 70-yard, 30-second scoring drive to commence the third quarter.
“He said, ‘Coach, let’s run this play,'” said Burnett of Smith, who faked a pitch to the back on his right, then eased a long floater to Speroni behind the Stone Bridge secondary. “He’s a winner. He wins football games. He’s a special kid and we’re lucky to have him.”
Renaud blocked the extra-point try, but the Huskies made up for it less than four minutes later. Smith zipped it to Jonathan Roebuck running a slant pattern, and Roebuck shed one tackle to open up some 80 yards of green grass. Speroni dragged across the middle to snag Smith’s two-point conversion pass, and the lead was an astonishing 35, forcing the clock to keep running.
The Bulldogs, as their namesake suggests, didn’t give up. Subjected to throwing on nearly every down, junior backup quarterback Easton Turner authored a pair of touchdown drives. He found Brett Smedley for a nifty running grab in the deep corner of the end zone, then two possessions later hooked up with Chase Ridley on a pretty pass to the pylon.
Down three scores with a half-quarter to go, Stone Bridge recovered its on-side kick. Turner threw a deep-ball interception to Roebuck a few plays later. The Bulldogs’ subsequent possession ended the same, as sophomore linebacker Peter Deer stepped in front of a Turner pass and returned it 30 yards, where a series of short running plays killed the leftover clock.
“We knew we had to focus on the run and the pass this week,” said Roebuck on behalf of his mates in Tuscarora’s defensive secondary. “We’d struggled for a few games, but we stepped up this week.”
Burnett noticed his defense’s effort too.
“Our defense played great, and we have not played great defensively this year,” the Huskies’ head man said.
Breece accounted for six of the Bulldogs’ eight gains of more than 10 yards. In addition to his 54-yard end zone dash, the fleet-footed junior had a 21-yard scamper late in the second quarter, turned a near loss into a 20-yard improvisation, and snagged a pass for 21 yards, almost all after the catch.
It was almost entirely a clean game, insofar as neither team committed a turnover until well into the night, when the Bulldogs’ downfield chucks in search of yardage chunks resulted in a pair of interceptions. Penalties were pervasive for the Huskies, who overcame 13 derogatory flags including five holding calls, two pass interferences and a pair of personal fouls.
Still, the efforts of the Huskies’ Smith, the two-headed running back monster and an assignment-focused defense drove Tuscarora to a true history-making win.
“We wanted this one really bad for Coach Burnett. This was a great opportunity for us,” Roebuck said. “It feels great. Honestly, it just feels great.”
Jockeying for playoff position
Tuscarora goes to 9-0 for the second consecutive campaign. A year ago, the Huskies went lossless until the Group 5A state final. They enjoy a bye next week before battling Broad Run in the season-ender, and are fighting it out with Brooke Point, Massaponax and those same Spartans for the No. 1 overall seed in the quickly oncoming postseason.
Stone Bridge falls to 4-4, the program’s lowest win total through eight contests since its inaugural season in 2000. Still, because of the absolutely brutal schedule against which the Bulldogs have tested themselves, they’ve amassed enough powerpoints to keep them in the thick of contention for a Region 5A North playoff berth.
Exactly where the Bulldogs wind up in those standings will be determined greatly by the outcome of their matchup next Friday versus 6-2 Potomac Falls. If we see the mainly one-dimensional offense and uncharacteristically porous defense they took to Leesburg, the news could be grim; but if they sport the high-powered single-wing trickery Stone Bridge used to romp past then-unbeaten Broad Run in its previous outing, then the Bulldogs would be back on track and the Tuscarora/Stone Bridge outcome would be seen as a forgettable aberration. We just don’t yet know.
That’s why we play the games. Because you might see something you’ve never seen before.
Tuscarora stats –
Rushing: Daniel Smith 9-100, 2 TDs; Taj Malave-Neely 16-92, 1 TD; James Douglas 10-59, 1 TD; Derek Larson 2-5
Passing: Daniel Smith 5 of 7 for 190, 2 TDs
Receiving: Jeremy Sampson 2-51; Jonathan Roebuck 1-90, 1 TD; Nic Speroni 1-36, 1 TD; James Douglas 1-13
Stone Bridge stats –
Rushing: Joshua Breece 16-138, 1 TD; Easton Turner 3-16; Dewayne Winston 3-4; Chase Ridley 2-0
Passing: Easton Turner 14 of 38 for 112, 2 TDs, 2 INTs; Joshua Breece 1 of 1 for 2
Receiving: Brett Smedley 7-49, 1 TD; Joshua Breece 3-36; Chase Ridley 2-16, 1 TD; Leland Girdy 2-8; Joe LeMaster 1-5
Other scores –
Freedom 28, Rock Ridge 21
John Champe 21, Heritage 14
Briar Woods 24, Chantilly 21 (OT)
Broad Run 28, Oakton 21 (OT)
Potomac Falls 56, JEB Stuart 21
Loudoun Valley 42, Loudoun County 7
Woodgrove 52, Park View 0
Clarke 72, Riverside 6
Off week for: Dominion
VivaLoudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Jason S Rufner
for Viva Loudoun Media Communications