Ashburn, Va. — As the crisp air fell over the stadium at Broad Run High School, a small sense of normalcy returned to Ashburn as the traveling Huskies of Tuscarora High School started to get loose before their rivalry matchup with the hometown Spartans.
Like with everything in 2020-2021, there was a sense of newness for both teams: a stadium capacity of just 250 spectators as opposed to the standing room only crowd a game of this magnitude typically draws, the sunsetting over the spring horizon just after 6pm, and both teams without their 2019 all-state quarterbacks, who graduated in 2020.
However, a few things also felt quite routine: there was a Griffis starting at quarterback for the Spartans, Matei Fitz lined up on the Tuscarora defensive line, and both teams were once again vying for the top spot in the Dulles District.
Since this rivalry has become a staple in Loudoun in 2013, the Spartans have dominated the regular season matchup—going 5-2—while the Huskies have an edge in the playoffs, 3-2.
Tuscarora will hope to continue its winning ways in the postseason but flipped the script in the regular season matchup on March 12 in Ashburn, outlasting a Broad Run rally, 20-19, to earn the Huskies’ first regular season win over the Spartans since 2015.
“It’s an emotional high, because it’s a big, hard-fought win. We have nothing but respect for every single kid and every single coach at Broad Run,” Tuscarora head coach Brandon Wheelbarger said. “It all sort of came together tonight. I’m really proud of our guys for their battle.”
Tuscarora got on the board first when junior quarterback Sonny Mannino hit senior receiver Caleb Coombs on a 45-yard pitch and catch midway through the first quarter to give the Huskies a 7-0 advantage.
Broad Run responded by marching the length of the field, setting up a 1st-and-goal from the Huskies’ 10 yard line to open the second quarter. Tuscarora made their first big defensive stand of the night, forcing Broad Run to settle for a field goal which junior kicker Garrett Bennion drilled from 25 yards out.
Then midway through the second quarter, Broad Run forced Tuscarora to punt, setting them up with decent field position at their own 41 yard line. However, on the next play from scrimmage, Tuscarora senior linebacker Leo Orozco picked off the pass from Broad Run junior quarterback Brett Griffis—their first of 5 turnovers on the night—as the Huskies stole the momentum.
With a fresh set of downs and the ball in enemy territory, Tuscarora looked to extend its lead, but the Spartans returned the favor as on the next play from scrimmage, Broad Run senior linebacker Alon Wilson intercepted Mannino.
On the ensuing drive, Griffis once again led the Spartans downfield, setting up a 1st-and-10 from the Tuscarora 15 late in the first half. And for the second time in as many quarters, the Huskies defense stood strong, turning Broad Run over on downs as the first half ended in favor of Tuscarora, 7-3.
“We were just trying to go out there and win in the trenches,” Tuscarora senior defensive lineman Matei Fitz said. “We knew whoever won the battle at the line was going to come out on top.”
Broad Run and Tuscarora were on the same page in terms of controlling the line of scrimmage as Broad Run sold out defensively to stop the run, limiting 2019 first team All-LoCo running back Bryce Duke to just 17 yards on 8 carries in the first half.
“Broad Run did a phenomenal job with their game plan to slow down our run game,” Wheelbarger said. “Hats off to our receivers and to Sonny for being able to put some balls into tight places and make some throws to allow us to still move the football. That was a big game for him to take the next step in his progression against one of the best defenses in the State of Virginia.”
That defensive effort forced Tuscarora to go to the air more in the second half, where Mannino completed 6 passes for 147 yards, including 2 touchdown passes to senior receiver Christian Camacho.
“We had a great game plan coming into the game but stuff changes,” Mannino said. “Our offensive line did a great job blocking the pass rush, and I was able to move around when I had to.”
Trailing 20-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Broad Run was once again on the move, deep inside Tuscarora territory when the Spartans coughed up the football, which was recovered by Camacho at the Huskies 13 yard line.
Broad Run, however, would not give in as the Spartans defense finally chased down Mannino in the Tuscarora endzone, closing the gap to 20-19 on the safety, while also getting the ball back midway through the fourth quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Broad Run again entered Tuscarora territory, where they again fumbled the football, which was recovered this time by Tuscarora junior safety Josh Bendix.
Broad Run had one final chance to send up a prayer with less than 15 seconds to play, however, Fitz blew through the Spartans offensive line, recovering the third Broad Run fumble in the final eight minutes of the game to secure the win for Tuscarora.
“The culture we have at Tuscarora helps us fight through adversity, and that really came into play tonight,” Fitz said. “I’m just happy we came out on top.”
“I think watching Loudoun County and Heritage against Broad Run, there are a lot of things that they do well,” Wheelbarger said. “Being crosstown rivals we’re going to have to really fight the next two weeks.”
|1Q||4:51||Tuscarora||Sonny Mannino to Caleb Coombs 45-yard TD pass (Wilmer Salmeron PAT)||7-0|
|2Q||10:29||Broad Run||Garrett Bennion 25-yard FG||7-3|
|3Q||10:36||Broad Run||Brett Griffis to Ryan Wozniak 58-yard TD pass (Garrett Bennion PAT)||7-10|
|3Q||9:25||Tuscarora||Sonny Mannino to Christian Camacho 30-yard TD pass (PAT missed)||13-10|
|3Q||4:22||Broad Run||Brett Griffis to Ryan Wozniak 4-yard TD pass (Garrett Bennion PAT)||13-17|
|3Q||1:30||Tuscarora||Sonny Mannino to Christian Camacho 31-yard TD pass (Wilmer Salmeron PAT)||20-17|
|4Q||7:19||Broad Run||Broad Run defense forced Safety||20-19|