Leesburg, Va. — On October 11, the Woodgrove Wolverines were shut out by the Briar Woods Falcons.
It was a defeat that stuck with the Wolverines as they entered their VHSL Region 5C semifinal, hosting the very same Falcons team.
This time, the script was flipped, as the Wolverines knocked off the Falcons, 33-21, to earn them a berth into the VHSL Region 5C championship game against the Stone Bridge Bulldogs. Their turnaround was aided by the phenomenal play of one receiver and an incredible defensive game plan that was executed extremely well.
Tyler Blizzard posted an explosive first half
One of the most important traits for a receiver is the ability to locate and track the ball in the air. On shorter routes, this skill matters less, but when it’s time to take a shot, the receiver has to be able to keep track of the ball and then adjust his body to be able to come down with the pass.
Tyler Blizzard’s ability to come down with contested catches and to track the deep ball is wildly impressive. He caught six passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns, coming down with multiple deep balls.
On the first, he ran a fly up the right sideline, and with the defender on his hip as the pass arrived, Blizzard used a savvy push-off move that garnered him the separation he needed to make the play over the defensive back. On his first touchdown, he turned himself around 180 degrees to make a back-shoulder catch with the corner draped all over him. His second was a masterpiece and a backbreaker for the Briar Woods defense. A deep pass that wasn’t even intended for him was tipped by a Falcon defensive back and landed right into Blizzard’s outstretched arms.
That play was the benefit of some good luck and some film study, as Blizzard later noted that he had seen the same play happen to Briar Woods on film.
“Let me just take a chance, and I ended up catching a score,” Blizzard said.
The game was also Blizzard’s first full game on defense, and the Wolverines shined bright on that side of the ball.
Woodgrove defense shifted things around
In the first matchup against Briar Woods, they suffered greatly against the Falcons’ no-huddle attack. That, combined with a litany of injuries, had the Wolverines gasping for air. In this matchup, Woodgrove head coach Derek Barlow wanted to flip the script.
“They have a lot of two-way guys,” Barlow said. “We thought if we threw and got them running east-west, sideline to sideline, we could kind of slow them down on offense.”
One of the primary tasks for any team that played Briar Woods this year was slowing down junior quarterback Christian Greene. In the first matchup, Greene threw and ran all over the Wolverines, something Barlow was not going to allow this time around.
Woodgrove devoted a large amount of resources to forcing Greene to play solely from the pocket, eliminating the threat of his legs.
They switched from an odd front – three defensive linemen – to an even and under front – four defensive linemen. Before the snap, they would constantly shift their linemen around, trying to cause confusion in the quarterback’s mind.
In addition to that, the Wolverines placed a full-time spy on Greene, harassing him every time he tried to escape the pocket and make a play with his legs.
The game plan and execution were incredible, as the Falcons’ quarterback was contained on the ground – rushing for just 56 yards – and through the air – completing just 12 of 25 passes for 130 yards and two late touchdowns. Greene looked to be in considerable pain throwing the ball and misfired on multiple attempts. He wasn’t helped by his receiving corp, which dropped multiple passes as well.
In addition to that game plan, Woodgrove senior safety Malachi Haynes played phenomenally. Throughout the night he did a great job positioning his teammates and ensuring they were in the right place to make plays.
Haynes also deterred some Greene passes with his range. Playing as a centerfielder in the backfield, he raced forward to take away possible passing options, breaking up one pass on a fourth down late in the game purely because of his reaction time, speed, and pre-snap positioning. His effort was representative of the overall defensive play, which executed the game plan extremely well.
Stone Bridge looming ahead
The Wolverines now go on the road to take on the Stone Bridge Bulldogs in the VHSL Region 5C Championship, a rematch against a team that beat them by 30 points in the regular-season matchup.
Derek Barlow knows the odds are stacked against his team, but part of him likes it that way.
“I always want to play the best,” Barlow said. “You might say ‘You’re crazy. You want to play Stone Bridge?’, but you just want to know what you have.”
Tasked with the toughest matchup of their season, Woodgrove will look to their stars to try and propel themselves to another victory and find out for sure exactly what they’re made of.