Lynchburg, Va. — The Tuscarora Huskies fell short of their first-ever VHSL 4A State title on December 14, in a 34-14 loss to the Lake Taylor Titans. The Huskies failed to capitalize after their stunning victory over Salem last week, ending their eighth playoff trip and third championship bid in defeat.
“We want to be able to compete at the highest level. It’s now three championships that we’ve been here, two at 5A and one at 4A,” Tuscarora head coach Brandon Wheelbarger said. “I’m really proud of all the guys who wore the uniform tonight, with an especially heavy heart for the ones that, this was it, this was the last game for them. I’m really proud of them.”
The Huskies lagged behind the Titans for the duration of the game, only putting up 184 yards compared to the Titans’ 392 yards. Tuscarora sophomore running back Bryce Duke – who ran more than 200 yards in last week’s victory over Salem – gained no positive yardage for the Huskies, forcing them to rely primarily on senior quarterback Ethan Gick. Gick threw for 134 passing yards and netted all 51 of the team’s rushing yards.
“We wanted to be able to take our shots and get a lot of run routes to expose their man coverage, and we could do that for the most part here and there, but I think it was really hard for the O-line to make a lot of their calls and get on time,” Gick said. “We just couldn’t get in a rhythm. We couldn’t get our run game going, and when we can’t do that we become pretty predictable. It left us throwing most of the game.”
Lake Taylor head coach Hank Sawyer said he and his team were expecting a challenge from the Huskies, especially on offense.
“With a team like Tuscarora, the game’s not over until it’s over,” Sawyer said. “They can score. The best defense against them is to keep the ball from them—if we’re on offense, we can breathe.”
The Titans worked to do just that, winning the time of possession battle.
I’m really proud of all the guys who wore the uniform tonight.
—Tuscarora head coach Brandon Wheelbarger
Despite the stout play of the Lake Taylor defense, Tuscarora still scored two touchdowns: the first coming off of a quick Gick quarterback keeper up the middle for 33 yards with five minutes left in the first half; the second coming on a two-yard rush, also by Gick.
“I knew we could move the ball,” Gick said. “But they made us grind for every single yard.”
Lake Taylor pushed hard to get ahead early, opening the game on a 21-0 run. Late in the first quarter, Lake Taylor junior quarterback Jeffrey Foster hit junior receiver Darious Speight with a 27-yard touchdown pass. Then early in the second quarter, Foster again connected with Speight for a 13-yard score. Less than four minutes later, Foster found junior running back Malik Newtown with a 30-yard touchdown pass. The Titans allowed their early lead to help carry them through the rest of the game, with the Foster-Speight connection scoring once more and Newton carrying in a touchdown late in the third quarter.
“I knew Tuscarora was really good,” Sawyer said. “We knew we needed to stop them. It was really important because I knew the kind of points that they can score. One of the teams I’ve lost to in the five times I’ve been here is Salem. And they beat Salem last Saturday pretty handily, so I knew we needed to be on our A-game.”
Despite the painful loss, Wheelbarger said he and his team will continue to work towards that championship victory throughout the offseason.
“It’s that motto of getting back to work,” Wheelbarger said. “We have a group now of ten years at this school where this culture has built kids who know nothing but work. I think that’s the message and the impact that these seniors have left. I think we’ll be there [next season]to show that expectation to the classes moving forward.”
|1Q||4:32||Lake Taylor||Jeffrey Foster to Darious Speight 27-yard TD pass (Jeffrey Foster PAT)||7-0|
|2Q||10:15||Lake Taylor||Jeffrey Foster to Darious Speight 13-yard TD pass (Jeffrey Foster PAT)||14-0|
|2Q||6:37||Lake Taylor||Jeffrey Foster to Malik Newton 30-yard TD pass (Jeffrey Foster PAT)||21-0|
|2Q||5:00||Tuscarora||Ethan Gick 33-yard TD run (Max Skirkanich PAT)||21-7|
|3Q||7:37||Lake Taylor||Jeffrey Foster to Darious Speight 31-yard TD pass (PAT blocked)||27-7|
|3Q||3:00||Lake Taylor||Malik Newton 2-yard TD run (Jeffrey Foster PAT)||34-7|
|4Q||5:38||Tuscarora||Ethan Gick 2-yard TD run (Max Skirkanich PAT)||34-14|