Leesburg, Va. — It was 437 days between snaps for the Tuscarora High School football team. After falling in the VHSL 4A State championship game on December 14, 2019, the fall football season was postponed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rescheduled for the spring of 2021. More than 14 months since the end of their 2019 campaign, the Huskies took full advantage of every opportunity they had in their return to competition, shutting out Loudoun Valley, 28-0, in front of a limited home crowd on February 23 in Leesburg.
“For a lot of us, this is the why. For the kids and coaches, the relationships we build with them, Zooms don’t get that done,” Tuscarora head coach Brandon Wheelbarger said. “To finally be back out here playing football with them nearly 15 months later, I don’t think anybody would trade a thing to make it as sweet as it was today.”
To make the return even more sweet, the Huskies earned the win behind a rookie offensive line and junior quarterback Sonny Mannino, who made his first career varsity start.
Midway through the second quarter, Mannino found senior receiver Christian Camacho for an 11-yard touchdown pass to get the Huskies on the board. Then as the clock wound down in the first half, Mannino connected with senior receiver Ryan Upp on a 6-yard touchdown pass to put his team up 14-0 at the half.
“There were definitely some butterflies,” Mannino said. “But once we started making some connections in the game, it felt just like practice with the guys.”
Along with the Huskies youthfulness on offense, Tuscarora carried over some stability into the spring season, returning Upp, senior center Ryan Palmer, and All-LoCo first team running back Bryce Duke.
“It’s a blessing to be back out here,” Duke said. “There was a chance we wouldn’t get to play at all, so I’m just so glad we get to play this season.”
Duke picked up just where he left off last season, carrying the rushing load for the Huskies while pounding in two short touchdown runs in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach for the Vikings.
Despite being shut out on offense, the Loudoun Valley defense put up a tremendous effort, forcing a pair of turnovers while turning Tuscarora over on downs numerous times
“We know a Coach Bishop coached team is always going to be physical, they’re always going to play hard, and they’re always going to be well coached,” Wheelbarger said.
While it took 444 days between their last two wins, the Huskies (1-0) hope for a much shorter span between wins when they travel to Dominion (0-1) on February 28 for a 2 p.m. kickoff. Loudoun Valley (0-1) will look to bounce back when they host Independence (0-0) in Purcellville on February 28.
“I think we have a lot of good football players and a very good team,” Wheelbarger said. “But if this entire situation has taught us anything, we cannot take one day for granted. We can’t look past anything, because just a year ago, nobody saw this coming.”
|2Q||6:33||Tuscarora||Sonny Mannino to Christian Camacho 11-yard TD pass (Wilmer Salmeron PAT)||7-0|
|2Q||0:10||Tuscarora||Sonny Mannino to Ryan Upp 6-yard TD pass (Wilmer Salmeron PAT)||14-0|
|4Q||9:02||Tuscarora||Bryce Duke 2-yard TD run (Wilmer Salmeron PAT)||21-0|
|4Q||1:52||Tuscarora||Bryce Duke 1-yard TD run (Wilmer Salmeron PAT)||28-0|