Ashburn, Va. — Any defense facing a first-and-goal situation from the 5-yard line in the final two minutes of a varsity football game is strained. The challenge is even more pressure-filled when your team is leading by two points on the road in a VHSL 5A Region C semifinal against a big rival. And the challenge becomes even more difficult when you have to stop one of the most energetic backfields in all of Loudoun County.
Even with their backs against the wall, however, the Tuscarora High School football team didn’t give in.
“We did a lot of red zone work at practice this week. We hammered that situation,” Tuscarora senior safety Chris Broad said. “We all knew what we needed to do to get the stop.”
The Huskies met Broad Run High School sophomore running back Tim Baldwin and sophomore quarterback Mitch Griffis at or before the line of scrimmage on the first three downs.
“We switched some things up from the first time we played them and started slanting a little bit,” Broad said. “Our linebackers started spilling blocks which opened up holes for the defensive backs and the ends to really get up on them.”
Yet, the Spartans were still in the driver’s seat. With just over a minute to play, Broad Run set up for a 21-yard field goal attempt, which would have given them the lead. On a cold November 17, in front of their hometown crowd, the Spartan attempt missed wide right and the Huskies celebrated their win, 14-12.
“Our defense had to step it up,” Tuscarora sophomore defensive back Alex Lee said. “We all just competed and worked hard. In the end, it all paid off.”
Lee got the Huskies’ defense fired up early in the second quarter, when he jumped a route and picked off Griffis returning the ball 70 yards for a touchdown as Tuscarora took the lead 7-6.
The Tuscarora defense kept the Broad Run offense quiet for the remainder of the first half before the Spartans opened the third quarter with a fantastic kickoff return by senior Frank McGhee. The return eventually led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Baldwin – his second of the night – as Broad Run pulled within two points, pending a two-point conversion attempt.
Like it had all night, the Tuscarora defense stepped up to sack Griffis on the conversion attempt to maintain their two-point lead.
“We struggled to get our running game together. We’ve lost both our guards, and our tackle got dinged up so we’re a little shorthanded up front and it showed. Hopefully, we’re going to get some guys back next week,” Tuscarora head coach Mike Burnett said. “But in the meantime, we really needed our defense.”
While the defense shined for both teams, the Tuscarora offense did have its fair share of chances throughout the game. What looked to be a 51-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter was called back for a penalty. On the very next play, however, Tuscarora junior quarterback Justin Allen just barely overthrew his wide open target on the same exact play.
Luckily for the Huskies, Allen and the offense made enough plays to give Tuscarora the lead from which they never looked back.
The offensive play of the night came late in the second quarter when Allen – facing a 4th-and-22 – connected with senior receiver Adam Thorne for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
The Huskies’ offense has even more to be excited about with the return of junior slotback Leron West, who returned from injury, making his first appearance in more than a month.
“He’s the big play guy. He looked good, but he looked a little rusty,” Burnett said. “We’re just hoping he can progress this week and move back into where he was a month-and-a-half ago.”
As they say, there is no rest for the weary: No. 3 Tuscarora travels back to Ashburn on November 24 to vie for the VHSL 5A Region C title and a berth to the VHSL 5A State tournament against No. 1 Stone Bridge High School. The Black Friday kickoff is slated for 2 p.m.
“We have to play a very similar game; we have to keep the ball out of their hands,” Burnett said. “[To beat Stone Bridge], you have to have a ball-control offense, and you have to hope something goes your way at the end of the night like it did tonight.”
1Q 1:21 BR Tim Baldwin for 5-yard TD run (PAT failed)
2Q 8:31 T Alex Lee for 70-yard interception return TD (Skirkanich PAT)
2Q 3:24 T Justin Allen to Adam Thorne for 23-yard TD pass (Skirkanich PAT)
3Q 9:15 BR Tim Baldwin for 1-yard TD run (2pt failed)