Final score —
Dominion Titans (0-1) 0 6 0 0 = 6
Potomac Falls Panthers (1-0) 0 0 3 7 = 10
2 / 11:48 – Dominion TD (Scotty Forbes 40-yd pass to Luke Thompson; kick blocked)
3 / 0:57 – Potomac Falls FG (Alex Nemer 34-yd kick)
4 / 10:10 – Potomac Falls TD (RJ F’Ieki 1-yd run; Alex Nemer kick)
Potomac Falls High School, Sterling, Va. (August 29, 2014) – It was fourth and three from the five, with 41 seconds left. On their adversaries’ home field, the visiting Dominion Titans were going for it — three yards away from knocking on the door; five yards out from a near-certain winning score. The homestanding Potomac Falls Panthers, if they got the stop, would clinch a hugely emotional win on Opening Night.
Throughout two successive timeouts, Panther Stadium ramped up into a frenzy. Rivals from barely five minutes away, the grandstands were filled to capacity. On one side, the school band, the cheerleaders, the mascot, the vibrant student section and a throng of fans, whooping and hollering and banging on metal. On the other side, the exact same groups, doing the exact same things, only for the other team.
On the field, the lines bent toward their tasks. Dominion came set, put a man in motion. The ball was hiked, lifted up by quarterback Scotty Forbes and stuffed into the gut of Chad Smith, the Titans’ Clemson-bound stud. He took it right, seeking a hole before trying to make one, achieving some penetration. But the Panthers were there.
In a black-clad mass led by Justin Robles, Potomac Falls ganged up, stacked Smith up, and shoved him back and down. The Panthers’ side of the stadium roared, their players surging triumphantly onto their sideline in a fit of chestbumps and helmet slaps. But it wasn’t decided yet.
The officials called for a measurement. Silence fell as the ball was set and the chains were moved from the opposite sideline. The referee bent down, looked, got up — and signaled first-down, Panthers.
The delirium began anew.
One knee later, the seconds ticked off and the Panthers owned the sort of victory that their head coach wanted in order to foster the family atmosphere he espouses.
“We want to play as a family, together. That’s something Potomac Falls football has been missing for a long time,” said Potomac Falls coach Jason Allen, opening his third season at the Panthers’ helm in style. “No one person did it tonight. The whole team trusted each other. We knew adversity was going to come — Dominion’s a great football team. But we said as long as we played together as a team and trusted each other, we were going to be fine.”
How the two teams arrived at that climactic moment was interesting in itself — if not entirely entertaining. The ballgame had more flags than the Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies as Dominion committed 13 penalties, several of them for holding, while Potomac Falls was whistled for 12, half of those procedural infractions against the offensive line.
Titans coach Karl Buckwalter pointed to his team’s rash of penalties as a chief reason for the outcome.
“If you do the little things, it turns into wins, but if you don’t, it turns into losses, and that’s what happened,” he said, pointing out a long run to the 4-yard line that was called back due to a hold. “It’s just silly stuff. We deserved it because we weren’t doing what we’re supposed to do.”
It was the Titans who drew first blood in the rivalry contest. On the first snap of the second quarter, Scotty Forbes — the arm of Dominion’s two-man quarterback
rotation, while Jake Stapleton supplies the legs — dropped straight back and rifled a pass down the middle to Luke Thompson, who caught it at the 12, turned left and buttonhooked around a defender to escape untouched into the end zone.
That lead — kept to six thanks to Wanya Allen’s block of the extra-point try — held for nearly two quarters, as the Panthers found scarce running room and Brady Williams disconnected on seven consecutive passes.
Late in the third and n their own side of the 50, Williams made a play with his feet, stepping up in the pocket to avoid the Titans’ rush and finding Allen for a huge third-down conversion. That seemed to spark the Potomac Falls offense, as the running back combo of RJ F’Ieki and Jonathan Lewis took turns making first downs. The drive later stalled, but close enough that Alex Nemer could boot it home from the left hashmark, putting the Panthers on the board.
Their next drive was even more successful. Taking advantage of a shanked punt, the Panthers took over on the Titans’ 37 and ran right at their neighbors, feeding F’Ieki for runs of 11, 2 and 13 yards to set it up at the one-yard line. Williams turned and handed it to F’Ieki, and the senior followed blockers to storm into the end zone — giving something of a reprieve to a Potomac Falls offensive line that had looked beleaguered to that point.
“It’s not just RJ, it’s our o-line. We preach every day to get the jump off the football, and we tell RJ to trust the offensive line,” said Allen, who also credited offensive coordinator Paul Barnes for installing the wing-T variant which the Panthers now run.
Dominion tried but could not answer. With featured back Brandon Ruffin apparently hobbled, the carries went to freshman Billie Walker, who flashed some talent. But it was only in the final minute, when Forbes connected with Smith on a 21-yard completion to the five-yard line, that the Titans threatened again.
That’s when, as a bright young moon smiled down on Panther Stadium, the home team denied their visitors and earned the win, exacting a measure of payback for the 20-point loss Dominion handed them last November.
“It comes down to that last play,” Buckwalter said. “There’s that cliché about how it’s a game of inches, but yeah, it really is. They got this one, and we’ll see ’em again.”
The Sterling showdown will be fought yet again, when the Panthers take the short trip east on Algonkian Parkway to visit the revenge-minded Titans on November 7.
Viva Loudoun photographer Jeff Scudder covered the game and 148 photos from the match can be viewed by clicking here.
Potomac Falls stats —
Rushing: RJ F’Ieki 12-56, 1 TD; Jonathan Lewis 7-22; Kash Jackson 4-21; Ryan Tibbs 5-6; Brady Williams 6-3
Passing: Brady Williams 5 of 13 for 38
Receiving: Wanya Allen 3-22; Jonathan Lewis 1-11; Matt Madore 1-5
Dominion stats —
Rushing: Jake Stapleton 9-26; Billie Walker 5-22; Tucker Strycharz 6-19; Brandon Ruffin 2-14; Scotty Forbes 4-5; Chad Smith 1-1; Taliek Washington 1-0; Luke Thompson 1-(-3)
Passing: Scotty Forbes 6 of 11 for 111, 1 TD, 1 INT; Jake Stapleton 0 of 1 for 0, 1 INT
Receiving: Luke Thompsons 2-45, 1 TD; Billie Walker 1-23; Chad Smith 1-21; Chris Low 1-13; Tucker Strycharz 1-9
Other scores —
Briar Woods 38, Brooke Point 13
Broad Run 53, Booker T. Washington 9
Bishop Ireton 46, Park View 12
Loudoun County 33, Fauquier 0
Tuscarora 40, Kettle Run 7
John Champe 35, Central-Woodstock 10
Heritage 24, James Wood 12
Woodgrove 62, Freedom 0
Off-weeks for: Stone Bridge, Loudoun Valley, Rock Ridge JV
Written by Jason S Rufner