Leesburg, Va. — No football game is decided by just one play, and the VHSL Region 5C quarterfinal between No. 5 Potomac Falls and No. 4 Riverside was no different. The Panthers prevailed in a 14-7 battle that sent them on to the next round, but most, if not all, conversation around this game is going to center around what happened with 42 seconds left in the game.
Riverside had the ball at their own 30-yard line. They snapped it to their freshman quarterback Will Lind who threw it backward (or so he thought) to senior running back, receiver, quarterback, cornerback, safety, and linebacker Jack Selman.
Selman – who had never played a snap at quarterback before this week – gathered himself and slung a beautiful pass that traveled 25 yards in the air before landing perfectly in the hands of sophomore Nick Callis who went all the way down inside the Potomac Falls 20-yard line.
It was a huge play: the kind that put Riverside in prime position to tie the game, the kind that would be talked about years from now and remembered. Everyone wearing red and blue jumped up and down in joy until they saw the flash of yellow on the field.
The flag was for an illegal forward pass, as Lind’s initial pass to Selman apparently wasn’t a lateral and instead went forward.
Riverside head coach Brian Day disagreed.
“It was a backward pass. There was no doubt about it. We’ve got sideline replay. We can see it,” Day said. “It’s not a forward pass, because you have to look at the feet of where the quarterback started. You know, is what it is.”
While that call benefited Potomac Falls greatly, there’s no denying how well they played defensively in winning this game. After Riverside blocked a punt and had incredible field position with under seven minutes left in the game, all the momentum looked to be with the Rams.
After a first down run of five, the Panthers defense stepped up in an enormous way. On second down, Riverside tried to run a bubble screen for Selman, but Potomac Falls senior defensive end Colin Araque got into the passing lane, showing off an impressive vertical and forcing Lind to pull the ball back down. Lind was then engulfed by Potomac Falls senior linebacker Will Misch, who brought him down for a loss of seven.
On the ensuing third down, Riverside came with three receivers, placing Selman in the slot. The Rams ran a flood concept to the left side and the Panthers doubled Selman’s short out route leaving the deeper out route open. The play called for Lind to roll out to his left, but before the freshman quarterback could move off his first read, Araque had blown through the Riverside left tackle and running back who had been tasked to block him.
Lind pulled the ball down, but Araque was too quick, knocking it out for a fumble that the Panthers would recover to stimy one of the best offensive chances the Rams would have all night. It was a dominant sequence for the Potomac Falls linebacker, a game-changing one.
While scoring was few and far in between during this game, Potomac Falls senior running back Leo Burns showed off his abilities. The senior started this year at quarterback before moving to a running back role where his athleticism has jumped off the page. He scored two touchdowns in the game, one on a 35-yard pass where he got about 34 yards after the catch, making three Rams miss. On his second score, Burns displayed his power, taking a jet sweep and powering through into the end zone for the eventual game-winner. After the game, Potomac Falls head coach Paul Barnes’ face lit up when he heard Burns’ name.
“He’s a great competitor,” Barnes said. “He can get after it.”
The Panthers pride themselves on having multiple options on offense. Despite that, there’s a clear No. 1 option on their team: senior receiver and cornerback Jalen Coker.
Coker’s combination of elusiveness, power, jumping ability, and impeccable hands have
made him one of, if not the, best receiver in Loudoun County. He’s a threat every time he touches the ball.
However, for almost the entire game against the Rams, he didn’t see the ball. Give credit to Selman – who lined up one on one with Coker for most of the night – because very few times did Coker even have a target. There was one early in the game where a deep pass hit Coker in the hands before falling to the grass, one even he admitted he should have caught.
Outside of that and one other target where he came down out of bounds, Coker wasn’t given the ball until the game was essentially over. The Potomac Falls offense, which was predicated on misdirection and utilized a jet sweep action or some sort of screen on half of their plays, couldn’t find it in themselves to give it to Coker even one time until with under three minutes left in the game.
Whether it was part of the game plan to use Coker as a glorified decoy or the result of incredible defense by Selman, Coker wasn’t a huge factor in this game, having nowhere near the impact he wants or expects to have. He had one carry late in the game where he stiff-armed a defender and gained a first down, his graceful stride eating up yards. He’s a pure weapon and his game-breaking ability should be put to use.
Potomac Falls now finds itself advancing to a VHSL Region 5C semifinal where the Panthers will play a juggernaut in No. 1 Stone Bridge on November 22 in Ashburn.
They’ll be huge underdogs in the game, but as Barnes said, “Bring it on.”