Ashburn, Va. — As Tuscarora High School watched their two-score first-half lead vanish early in the fourth quarter of the VHSL 5A Region C championship game on November 24, the energy level at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn quickly turned sides. The dormant Dog Pound – Stone Bridge’s student section – reenergized as their counterpart Tusky Terror fell to a low hush.
With ten minutes to play, all of the momentum was with Stone Bridge. The No. 1 Bulldogs had erased a 21-7 deficit to take a 27-21 lead and hadn’t allowed Tuscarora to settle into any sort of offensive rhythm.
But the No. 3 Huskies never wavered in their confidence.
“The biggest thing for us today was we didn’t come in intimidated, and I think a lot of people do,” Tuscarora head coach Mike Burnett said. “Our kids came in with immense respect for their team, their kids and their coaches. But we didn’t let that change how we played the game.”
When Tuscarora junior running back Leron West made his way to the sideline with less than five minutes to play in the six-point game, he called his offensive line to his side.
“Just block,” West said. “You’ve all seen that I can run.”
With just under three minutes to play in the game, the Tuscarora defense made its second consecutive fourth-down stop to give their offense the ball back at midfield.
Then the Huskies’ offense clicked into action, meticulously moving the ball downfield – seemingly at will – to set up a first-and-goal situation from the Bulldogs’ 8-yard line.
Having moved to a pass-heavy, big-play offense in the first half – which saw senior tight end Kyle Jenkins corral three touchdown passes – the Huskies settled back into their game-planned offense late in the fourth quarter, when Tuscarora junior quarterback Justin Allen turned and handed the ball off to West who did what he does best: he ran.
Those eight yards might have been the longest eight yards in West’s career. The electric slotback is still recovering from a leg injury that occurred a few months ago, but he didn’t let that stop him from carrying the ball those eight yards to tie the game up at 27-27 with two minutes to play.
“He’s a warrior. He’s getting a little better every week and getting more confident in his knee,” Burnett said. “Today, he really had the big run when we needed it.”
But 27-27 wasn’t enough. The Huskies needed the extra point to take the lead, so they entered sure-footed sophomore Max Skirkanich. Skirkanich stepped back and drilled the PAT giving his team the late lead, 28-27.
On the ensuing kickoff, however, Stone Bridge junior Ajani Gillis returned the ball 56 yards down to the Tuscarora 34-yard line.
A late hit against Tuscarora put Stone Bridge in prime position to score – facing a 1st-and-10 from the 15 with just under two minutes to play. Just a couple plays later, the Bulldogs looked to their No.1 target – senior receiver Daniel Thompson – to try to retake the lead, but Tuscarora senior defensive back Alex Lee made an excellent play on the ball, getting Thompson just a half step out of rhythm as the ball fell to the ground.
“Daniel Thompson is a huge playmaker,” Tuscarora senior defensive back Chris Broad said. “We planned for him, and we finally shut him down there at the end.”
Faced with a 4th-and-18, Stone Bridge elected to attempt a 41-yard field goal. Having already missed two PATs, the Bulldogs’ kick came up well short as Tuscarora began its celebration.
“The whole game we played with the mentality that it was the final play of the game and that we needed to get a stop,” Broad said. “That really helped us prepare for that last series.”
Emerging from one of the state’s most daunting regions, Tuscarora will host the VHSL 5A Region D champion Stafford High School on December 2 at Fortune Field in Leesburg in a VHSL 5A State semifinal. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m.
“We didn’t come all this way for nothing. We came here for a state championship,” Allen said. “That’s what we’re going to go get.”
2Q 9:37 SB Mason Tatum to Daniel Thompson for 9-yard TD pass (Baron PAT)
2Q 5:14 T Justin Allen to Kyle Jenkins for 41-yard TD pass (Skirkanich PAT)
2Q 0:41 T Justin Allen to Kyle Jenkins for 22-yard TD pass (Skirkanich PAT)
2Q 0:05 T Leron West to Kyle Jenkins for 15-yard TD pass (Skirkanich PAT)
3Q 6:18 SB Mason Tatum to Daniel Thompson for 12-yard TD pass (2pt good)
4Q 10:51 SB Nick Mell for 3-yard TD run (PAT failed)
4Q 10:51 SB Mason Tatum to Daniel Thompson for 8-yard TD pass (PAT failed)
4Q 1:58 T Leron West for 8-yard TD run (Skirkanich PAT)