Ashburn, Va. — While they enjoyed Thanksgiving meals with their families, the Tuscarora High School football team had just two games on their minds: an August 29 loss to Broad Run and their impending rematch with the Spartans on November 29.
Round 1 goes to the Spartans
The first game was important. It was a chance for both teams to get a feeling for where they stood. Predicted to be the top two teams in the Dulles District and VHSL Region 4C heading into the season, the Huskies and Spartans battled until the end, as Broad Run held off Tuscarora, 28-26.
“That first loss to me was huge. We had a ton of kids making their first starts in what was essentially a state-championship-like atmosphere,” Tuscarora head coach Brandon Wheelbarger said. “Now, coming back to it, our kids had felt it before. We’ve been telling our kids all week, that that one loss happened for a reason. It happened to put us here today for this opportunity.”
Tuscarora clicking on all cylinders
Almost 100 days later, this second game was even more important. The Huskies and Spartans were playing for the VHSL Region 4C title.
From the time the two teams had met in late August until Black Friday, neither had lost a game, Broad Run sitting at 12-0 and Tuscarora at 11-1. In those three months, the Spartans had averaged more than 39 points of offense per game while allowing just 12.5. The Huskies had allowed just shy of 11 points per game, while scoring 36.5.
It was in the last month, however, is where Tuscarora really started to stand out. In their first four games in November, the Huskies were outscoring opponents 177-45.
During that time, Tuscarora senior quarterback Ethan Gick completed 38 of 53 passes for 615 yards and 7 touchdowns and carried the ball 51 times for 458 yards and 9 touchdowns. If Gick’s numbers weren’t ridiculous enough, Tuscarora sophomore running back Bryce Duke carried the ball 69 times for 563 yards and 8 touchdowns and also caught 5 passes for 68 yards and another 2 touchdowns in November.
Rematch for the region crown
Tuscarora and Broad Run entered their rematch different teams then they were in the first week, and it showed.
The Spartans were quite aware of the threat Gick and Duke posed on the ground and decided to take their legs away from them in the first half, holding the backfield duo to just 36 yards rushing through the first two quarters.
Midway through the first quarter, however, Gick found senior receiver Jevonn Gilyard for a 36-yard touchdown strike, and the Huskies were in business.
“If they want to key on Bryce, then we’re going to take our shots,” Gick said. “As soon as they put people in the box, there’s one less guy over top to cover Jevonn, Zach, or Ryan in space. It’s so hard for teams to game plan against us, because we can score in so many different ways.”
Broad Run senior quarterback Mitch Griffis then led the Spartans downfield, ending the drive with a ridiculous 17-yard pitch-and-catch to junior receiver Jake Busser early in the second quarter to even things out at 7-7.
From there, it was all Huskies.
With three minutes to play in the second quarter, Gick connected with junior receiver Ryan Upp on a 15-yard touchdown pass to retake the lead, 14-7.
On the ensuing Broad Run possession, Tuscarora sophomore defensive back Josh Bendix picked off Griffis, stunting any chance of momentum the Spartans were looking for heading into the half.
To throw acid on the wound, Gick connected with Duke for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 30 seconds to play in the first half to extend the Huskies’ lead to 20-7.
“We have so many different weapons, and all of them are selfless,” Wheelbarger said. “None of these kids ever talk about not getting the touches. They just go and celebrate each other’s successes.”
And just when it looked like nothing could go worse for the Spartans, Griffis – who missed Broad Run’s first two playoff games – was forced to the sideline with another injury, his storied high school career coming to an unfortunate end.
Tuscarora received the opening kickoff of the second half and chewed up more than eight and a half minutes of clock before Gick hit Upp for his fourth touchdown pass of the day.
Early in the fourth quarter, Tuscarora senior kicker Max Skirkanich put the game on ice when he drilled a 27-yard field goal.
Huskies 30, Spartans 7.
“The trophy is cool, but it’s a byproduct,” Wheelbarger said. “It’s the time we get to spend together that I’m excited about.”
The region championship win sends Tuscarora to a VHSL 4A State semifinal where the Huskies will travel to Salem to tango with the Region 4D champion Spartans on December 7 for a chance to play in the VHSL 4A State championship.
“Coming into the year, our goal was never a region championship; it was to play football for as long as we can to have this group together for as long as we can,” Wheelbarger said. “The best thing about right now is I’m guaranteed another week with these kids.”
|1Q||5:52||Tuscarora||Ethan Gick to Jevonn Gilyard 36-yard TD pass (Max Skirkanich PAT)||7-0|
|2Q||11:53||Broad Run||Mitch Griffis to Jake Busser 17-yard TD pass (Isaac Lattimer PAT)||7-7|
|2Q||3:01||Tuscarora||Ethan Gick to Ryan Upp 15-yard TD pass (Max Skirkanich PAT)||14-7|
|2Q||0:35||Tuscarora||Ethan Gick to Bryce Duke 21-yard TD pass (PAT blocked)||20-7|
|3Q||3:25||Tuscarora||Ethan Gick to Ryan Upp 8-yard TD pass (Max Skirkanich PAT)||27-7|
|4Q||10:04||Tuscarora||Max Skirkanich 27-yard field goal||30-7|