Nokesville, Va. — Coming off a tough loss to end its regular season — which after some tie breaking scenarios saw the Tuscarora High School football team fall to the Dulles District No. 4 seed — the Huskies knew how they would respond in their VHSL Region 4C quarterfinal.
After getting on the board early in the first, Tuscarora used record-setting nights from senior running back Bryce Duke and senior defensive back Josh Bendix to quickly pull away, knocking off Northwestern District champion Kettle Run, 45-12, on November 12 in Nokesville.
“Especially after losing the last game of the regular season, it puts into perspective how quick things can come to an end, so we’re taking it one week at a time,” Bendix said. “The mindset going into the game was to show people we can bounce back after a loss and set the tone for this playoff run.”
Despite entering their region quarterfinal as the overall No. 7 seed to Kettle Run’s No. 2 standing, the Huskies were the heavy favorite in the matchup, and they proved just why as Duke rushed for 240 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries—passing Harvard graduate Noah Reimers as Tuscarora’s all-time leading scorer.
“Noah’s records were thought to be unbreakable, and everyone else would have to fight for second place,” Tuscarora head coach Brandon Wheelbarger said. “Bryce being able to break that record is a testament to his work ethic.”
Running behind the twin towers in senior tackle Sean Pozniak and sophomore tackle Fletcher Westphal and first team all-district center Caleb Nitta, Duke—who was named one of the Dulles District co-Offensive Players of the Year—has put together an absurd fall, rushing for more than 2,500 yards on just 273 carries while scoring 34 rushing touchdowns.
“It’s all the hours that he puts in that you don’t see, the times that I have to tell him to stop working out or give his body time to recover,” Wheelbarger said. “It’s also a testament to our offensive line; as a program, we have produced more Division I linemen in the eleven years we have been open than anyone else in the county.”
Even with all that Husky offense, the Tuscarora defense—more specifically the defensive secondary—stole the show against Kettle Run. Bendix led the way for the Huskies with three interceptions, including a pick six, while setting the school record for career interceptions.
“Breaking any kind of record is crazy and exciting but being able to do it the same night as Bryce makes it all that much better,” Bendix said. “It just goes to show you the kind of team and bond we have. I think that we were more excited for each other than we were for ourselves. It’s honestly great to see all of his hard work pay off.”
Bendix’s record-breaking interception came at the perfect moment as the second team all-district defensive back has continued to play more freely down the stretch.
“Going into the season we knew Josh was close to breaking the record, and I believed that weighed on him, especially in the beginning of the season when he was unable to make those big plays; it frustrated him,” Wheelbarger said. “Towards the end of the regular season, he began to play more freely, and, in turn, he was able to make those plays.”
With the historic night in their rearview, the Huskies now have their sights set on revenge as they travel across Leesburg to battle rival Heritage on November 19 in a VHSL Region 4C semifinal.
Sitting and watching their students rush our field on our Homecoming night left a bad taste in our mouths. We’ve all been waiting to get our second chance with them.
—Tuscarora senior defensive back Josh Bendix
Earlier in the season, the Pride upset the Huskies in a shocking 32-27 victory to spoil Tuscarora’s Homecoming night—just the third time in history that Heritage had defeated Tuscarora. After that night, it seemed destined that these two teams would meet again in the postseason.
“This game obviously means a lot to this team. Sitting and watching their students rush our field on our Homecoming night left a bad taste in our mouths,” Bendix said. “We’ve all been waiting to get our second chance with them.”