Final score –
L.C. Bird (13-2) 0 14 0 8 22
Tuscarora (14-1) 7 12 0 0 19
1 / 7:42 – Tuscarora TD (Noah Reimers 4-yd run; Finley Underhill kick)
2 / 8:43 – Tuscarora TD (Noah Reimers 2-yd run; 2-pt run failed)
2 / 6:44 – L.C. Bird TD (Stephen Mines 4-yd run; Keaton Riley kick)
2 / 1:52 – L.C. Bird TD (Stephen Mines 6-yd run; Keaton Riley kick)
2 / 0:05 – Tuscarora TD (Daniel Smith 39-yd pass to Duron Norris; 2-pt run failed)
4 / 10:22 – L.C. Bird TD (Jalen Elliott 32-yd pass to Waymond Pate; 2-pt pass)
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va. (December 13, 2014) — It wasn’t the storybook ending Huskies fans had in mind, but the 2014 football season just experienced by the Tuscarora Huskies still makes for a great story.
A season bookended by sadness was filled with joy and celebration as the five-year-old Tuscarora football program grew up in 2014. From July’s shocking news of the sudden passing of defensive coordinator Adam Fortune, through an unblemished autumn of blowout wins and staggering statistics, to a narrow defeat in the school’s first ever state championship game for any sport, the year 2014 is absolutely one to remember for a long time.
“You look at our fans and their excitement…we won. We’re winners,” said Huskies head coach Michael Burnett after his team suffered a 22-19 loss to L.C. Bird in the Group 5A championship contest. “We’re a five-year-old program. But we’ve built a community that cares about each other.”
Halfway through the title tilt, as some 2,000 to 3,000 Tuscarora partisans rocked their side of Scott Stadium, the Huskies were sitting pretty indeed. Somehow, Daniel Smith had just turned an emergency scramble into a long touchdown pass to Duron Norris while the first-half clock ticked toward zero. The throng of blue-clad Husky faithful erupted into paroxysms of cheers.
Going into the locker room for halftime, the boys from Leesburg owned a five-point lead on the two-time defending champs…and had plenty of momentum after that final-seconds touchdown.
The second half, however, saw the Tuscarora offense start to falter just as the Skyhawks began to take off. The team from Chesterfield connected on a fourth-quarter catch-and-run touchdown which proved to be the difference.
“It’s just tough with something you wanted so bad, for it to end like this,” said Gatorade Player Of the Year and senior running back Noah Reimers, cheeks damp in the aftermath of his final high school football game.
That game opened as positively as possible for the Huskies. With comfortable temperatures under a midday sun, Tuscarora kicked off and Bird booted it, giving the Huskies the game’s first possession on their opponents’ 44-yard line.
As has been the story all season, Tuscarora’s massive offensive line and superstar running back got right down to work. Reimers took handoffs on eight straight snaps, driving the ball directly into the gut of Bird’s defense and finishing off with a short plunge to paydirt.
The Huskies held the Skyhawks — a 40-point-per-game offense whose top two running backs combined for 2,859 yards coming in — to nothing from their first three possessions. Will Larson provided the highlight fodder when he jumped over a man on his way to tackling the Bird ballcarrier for a loss. The crowd roared, responding to the play’s occurrence on a 4th-and-1 with the Skyhawks inches from the red zone.
Meanwhile, Tuscarora went up two scores on another Reimers TD ending another Reimers-fueled drive. Importantly, the extra-point attempt was foiled by a botched exchange, and the Huskies would not regain that missing point for the rest of the game.
Going down 13 points, the Skyhawks turned up the offensive heat. A three-and-out was reprieved when Tuscarora touched Bird’s ensuing punt, and Stephen Mines marched down the short field for a touchdown.
After the Huskies shot themselves in the proverbial foot with an offensive line penalty on a 4th-and-1, the Skyhawks again rode Mines, Reimers-like, to a score. The extra point put Bird up by one.
That’s when junior quarterback Daniel Smith showed why he was looked upon pre-season as the final piece of the Huskies’ puzzle.
With less than two minutes in the half, the strong-armed right-hander got clock-stopping first-down throws to Duron Norris and Nicolas Speroni. As time slipped below 10 seconds, Smith scrambled right, barely beyond the grasp of hard-charging Bird defenders. Seeing something downfield, he reversed his momentum, set and threw a beautiful spiral to a wide open Norris in the end zone.
If Norris hadn’t caught it, teammate Bryce Sorrell was right there too.
“I felt a ton of pressure coming,” Smith recalled. “I just scrambled away and tried to make something happen.”
It would be the last points the Huskies scored. The third quarter tussled by with no points while the antsy fanbases egged each other on. Both teams failed on short fourth-down conversions as the physicality increased with a crown at stake.
Reimers was keyed on by Bird’s fast defense, and the Huskies suffered the loss of stud senior David Chalmers from both lines. Versatile defensive back Jason Chubbuck also went down with injury, depleting the Huskies as the Skyhawks were finding rhythm with their abundant athleticism.
The fourth quarter dawned with a pair of students leading the rest of the massive Tuscarora assemblage in a chant of “We are…Fortune Strong!,” a shout responded to by several Tuscarora players.
Bird had the ball, down five. Means had been on the sideline since a vicious fumble-causing hit by Jordan Fisher in the third quarter. JB Wright — lightning to Means’ thunder — was getting the carries, but Tuscarora’s Jack Corso was getting the tackles.
From the 32 yard Bird QB Jalen Elliott found Waymond Pate running alone in a seam. Pate caught it around the 10, was caught from behind and wrestled with the man as both fell into the end zone.
The touchdown completed a 13-play, 91-yard, almost seven-minute drive — and stole the lead from the Huskies. The Tuscarora side of the stadium became momentarily quiet.
Tuscarora’s sleeping offense stirred slightly, putting together a couple first downs during a time-consuming answering drive. However, incomplete passes stalled it and the Huskies returned it on downs.
The defense held, giving the ball back to the Husky offense with 2:42 remaining. At midfield seventy-two seconds later, Tuscarora faced a do-or-die 4th-and-7. Smith scrambled, looking for the same magic he conjured in the waning moments of the first half.
It was not to be. His pass failed to connect with Speroni, which is just as well since an illegal motion penalty would have negated it. Just like that, somewhat anticlimactically, the season was over.
Burnett, now 2-1 in state title games for his head coaching career, saw beyond any score.
“This is the best group of people I’ve ever been around,” the veteran coach said. “Today is not about a football game for me. It’s about the time I’ve been able to spend with these kids and what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
Statistically, the two teams matched up very closely. Bird outgained the Huskies 318 yards to 268, running
just two more offensive plays. Tuscarora possessed for just over 23 minutes; Bird had it for just under 25. Both converted four third-downs; Bird failed on seven and Tuscarora failed on six. The Skyhawks were penalized six times; the Huskies were flagged for seven.
Corso and Nicholas Guiliano each finished with a team-high seven solo tackles. Larson and Elijah Moore took down six apiece, with two of Larson’s for a loss.
Smith’s season closes with 16 touchdown passes on 103 completions in 145 attempts, racking up 1,485 yards through the air. Norris, a sophomore, caught 27 passes, tying him with Fisher for most on the team. His five touchdown receptions are one behind Fisher.
Reimers reached the 3,000-yard threshold for his senior season, adding 129 to the 2,911 he had accumulated over the previous 14 games for 3,040. That figure, along with the Harvard-bound back’s yearly total of 47 touchdowns, sets a lofty new school record, by far.
The words “Coach Adam Fortune,” in some permutation or another, crossed the lips of all five Huskies who took reporters’ questions after the game. Fortune was Burnett’s primary assistant and best friend, as the duo won two state titles with Broad Run before opening the new program at Tuscarora.
Tuscarora’s 2014 football season was dedicated to Fortune’s memory, and the entire campaign was filled with references to his character and teaching style. “Good Fortune” and “Fortune Strong” t-shirts abounded at Husky games, and the school’s football field was officially named for him in October.
“Coach Fortune certainly played an immense role in what you saw today, in the kind of kids that you saw, in the emotions they gave on the field,” Burnett said. “This is the winningest team I’ll ever be a part of.”
Reimers put it eloquently.
“He was about much more than football,” the senior said. “We came out this season to make him proud, and I know damn well we did that. I know he’s smiling, and I know eventually we’ll be able to smile back.”
Burnett was unequivocal when asked how the Huskies of 2014 rank among the teams he’s ever guided.
“This is the best team I’ve ever been a part of,” he stated simply.
Tuscarora stats –
Rushing: Noah Reimers 31-129, 2 TDs; Daniel Smith 6-30; Bryce Sorrell 2-3
Passing: Daniel Smith 7 of 10 for 107, 1 TD; Noah Reimers 0 of 1 for 0
Receiving: Duron Norris 2-49, 1 TD; Noah Reimers 3-39; Nicolas Speroni 1-12; Bryce Sorrell 1-7
L.C. Bird stats –
Rushing: Stephen Mines 21-112, 2 TDs; JB Wright 13-63; Tyler Wilkins 2-38; Jalen Elliott 6-16; Darnell Gore 1-(-2)
Passing: Jalen Elliott 6 of 8 for 93, 1 TD
Receiving: Tyler Wilkins 4-59; Waymond Pate 2-34, 1 TD
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