By Kyle Gotimer
LoCoSports Staff Writer
Charlottesville (Dec. 14, 2014) – On a sunny afternoon on Dec. 13, the reigning back-to-back state champion L.C. Bird High School Skyhawks (13-2) defeated the Tuscarora High School Huskies, 22-19, in the VHSL 5A state championship game. Tuscarora ended arguably their most memorable season in school history with a 14-1 record making it to the first state final in program history.
“When you’ve come so far like this, there’s so much excitement around the program, so much energy, and you just want to finish it off right,” Tuscarora senior running back Noah Reimers said. “We haven’t lost in 13 months. It feels like forever. It stings a lot to end your season and your high school career like this.”
First State Championship Appearance in Program History
On the opening kickoff, Tuscarora senior Alejandro Avelar forced L.C. Bird senior Daijuane Dorsey to fumble. Tuscarora junior Elijah Moore was able to recover the fumble, and the Huskies offense started their first drive at the Skyhawk 44-yard line.
Reimers started the game with eight straight carries for 44 yards including a 4-yard touchdown run to put Tuscarora up by six. Tuscarora’s junior kicker Finley Underhill connected on the point after attempt to give the Huskies an early 7-0 lead.
After a defense stop several possessions later, Reimers went on another eight play drive for 78 all-purpose yards including his second touchdown of the day on a 2-yard carry putting the Huskies up 13-0.
On only two scoring drives Reimers had rushed for 92 yards on 15 carries accumulating two touchdowns. However, over his next 14 carries the L.C. Bird defense held Reimers to 36 yards and no scores.
“They were shooting the gaps really hard and had a lot of guys in the box. They were crowding the line and making it difficult for us to run the ball,” Reimers said. “I thought we did a good job of opening the playbook, but sometimes things just don’t fall your way. They’re a heck of a football team.”
And Reimers is a heck of a running back. In 2014, Reimers scored the third* most touchdowns in a single season (49), scored the fifth* most points in a single season (294), ran for the third most yards in a single season in VHSL history (3,040) and became only the fifth back in VHSL history to run for over 3,000 yards in a single season.
L.C. Bird senior running back Stephen Mines then ran for two Skyhawk touchdowns before the Huskies regained momentum going into the half.
Tuscarora junior quarterback Daniel Smith led the Huskies offense down the field in just under two minutes handing the ball off only twice, once to Reimers and once to sophomore running back Bryce Sorrell. Smith completed four passes on four attempts including a 39-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Duron Norris with five seconds remaining in the half.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, senior lineman David Chalmer and senior back Jason Chubbuck were injured early in the game and only Chalmer returned for limited second half action.
“Obviously that makes a difference. We’re not here to make excuses, but you lose two of the best players in the state defensively, as well as our starting fullback and tackle, it’s tough to bounce back from,” Tuscarora head coach Michael Burnett said.
L.C. Bird took advantage of a weakened Tuscarora defense at the beginning of the fourth quarter when junior quarterback Jalen Elliott completed a 32-yard touchdown pass to junior running back Waymond Pate. Electing to go for and connecting on a 2-point conversion, the Skyhawks took a 22-19 lead and never looked back.
“We’ve been in games where we’ve had to play four quarters, especially in the playoffs, and I’m not sure they’ve really had to do that,” L.C. Bird head coach David Bedwell said. “Once the game was close, they did some things they don’t normally do. Once we got them in that situation, I thought we had the advantage.”
Coach Adam Fortune’s Lasting Legacy
On July 7, 2014 coach Michael Burnett received a phone call that changed his life forever. Burnett’s best friend and assistant coach Adam Fortune had passed away at the age of 37. The Huskies football team dedicated their season and their field to their late coach under the motto “Fortune Strong” and made him proud with a 14-1 overall record.
“A game and a championship is a number on a scoreboard, and life is so much more than that. We’ve learned that this year,” Burnett said. “As bad as it hurts today, I got a call on July 7 that put things in perspective in terms of pain and disappointment and hurt, and this one doesn’t come close.
“[Fortune] didn’t want you to be a good person on the field and not off the field. He was such a great man to be around. You saw it today because of the way the kids handled themselves, kept battling and fighting. The way they handle adversity and success is what I hope everyone wants to see out of young men playing football. I could use him right now, because in the hard times he was the voice of reason and what’s important. He was just great to be around. He made life better. When I sit here and think about losing this game, I think about how I felt on July 7.”
The loss saddened the team and pushed them to be their best. They played the way he would have wanted them to play. And even when an injury knocked them out of the state championship game, they cheered on their teammates the way he would have wanted them to cheer.
“We were all in the weight room. We all sat there while coach Brian Fletcher told us. Immediately we all looked at each other and devastated. We didn’t know where the season was going to go,” Chubbuck said. “After about 30 minutes we got up and decided the only thing he would have wanted us to do was to keep going. He would not have wanted us get into a zone of self-pity. That day we lifted.”
Although Noah Reimers was disappointed about not bringing the title back to Loudoun with him, he knew Fortune would not be mad but rather proud at the Huskies effort and achievements throughout the year.
“After the tragedy of coach Fortune, we set out not only to play for him but for each other and our community and make everyone proud. Since that day, we’ve been working our butts off,” Reimers said. “It may not have ended the way we wanted, but that’s not what he was all about. He was never mad at us for a loss. Sometimes you’re not supposed to win. He just preached give it your all and so be it. He was about so much more than football. He made you happy every time you saw him and brighten your day. I think we made him happy today.”
With the offseason officially started, Burnett made it clear after the VHSL 5A state championship game that winning isn’t everything.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing to finish a season like this. But the only thing we really focused on [after the game]was this is the best group of people I’ve ever been around,” Burnett said. “For me, it’s not really about a football game. It’s about the time I’ve gotten to spend with these kids and what they have accomplished in a really short period of time. I love these kids.
“Things didn’t go our way today, but that’s why it’s a game. Nothing is proven by a score. Things are proven by how you act and behave, and they’ve been outstanding. We had some tough breaks today, but you worry about how they handle it. At the end of the day, my job is to build young men. I look at what happened out there today, and I feel I’ve done a pretty darn good job.”
Chubbuck wrapped it up nicely, “It’s not the end of the world. Life goes on. That’s how coach Fortune would have looked at it.”
*All record-breaking statistics are unofficial until approved by the VHSL
Daniel Smith 7-for-11, 107 yards, 1 TD
Noah Reimers 31 carries, 129 yards, 2 TD
Daniel Smith 6 carries, 29 yards
Bryce Sorrell 2 carries, 3 yards
Noah Reimers 3 receptions, 39 yards
Duron Norris 2 receptions, 49 yards
Nicolas Speroni 1 reception, 12 yards
Bryce Sorrell 1 reception, 7 yards
1Q 7:42 T Noah Reimers 4-yard TD run (Underhill PAT)
2Q 8:43 T Noah Reimers 2-yard TD run (2pt failed)
2Q 6:44 B Stephen Mines 4-yard TD run (Riley PAT)
2Q 1:52 B Stephen Mines 6-yard TD run (Riley PAT)
2Q 0:05 T Daniel Smith to Duron Norris 39-yard TD pass (2pt failed)
4Q 10:22 B Jalen Elliot to Waymond Pate 32-yard TD pass (2pt Elliot to Wilkins)