Even before their new high schools opened three years ago, Woodgrove and Tuscarora met on the football field to start a new rivalry. Back in 2010 it was all about raw potential and rookie miscues, but on Tuscarora’s turf field Oct. 26, the two programs showed just how far they have come.
Tuscarora and Woodgrove locked up in an epic game Friday night that featured the area’s top two running backs in Wolverine junior Josh Sweet and Husky sophomore Noah Reimers and five lead changes in the second half.
While Sweet (178 yards, three touchdowns) put his team ahead with 1:45 left on a 1-yard dive, Reimers (148 yards) had the last word as his fifth touchdown of the game, an 18-yard scamper with 40.9 seconds left, handed Tuscarora the thrilling 35-31 win.
“The hole was massive, you could have driven a truck through it,” Reimers said of his final TD that came on a night when he scored from 29, 4, 8 and 2 yards as well.
With blood smeared on his face, Reimers pointed out to the media whom he considered the real stars of the game as he circled on the roster his blockers: FB Ryan Abbate, TE Drew Davidson, OL Jack Corso, Andrew Corso, Anders Peterson, Darius Anderson and Brandon Chirinos.
“They are everything for me,” Reimers said.
Tuscarora improved to 6-1 in the Dulles District and 8-1 overall, while Woodgrove slipped to 4-3 and 6-3. Tuscarora finshes the regular season Nov. 2 at Heritage, while Woodgrove travels to Purcellville rival Loudoun Valley.
“It hurts to be so close. We let it slip away at the end but that No. 4 on the other team is one helluva player,” said Sweet, who also wears No. 4.
With tight end Garret Miller, center Chase Smith, tackles Tim Siler and Steve Root, and guards Dylan O’Connor and Dan Charmo paving the way, Sweet now has 1,535 yards rushing on the year on 223 carries. Reimers has also surpassed the 1,000-yard milestone with 1,158 yards on 184 carries.
Despite the valiant effort by both running backs, the story of Tuscarora’s win may be the passing of Nick Azzarita. The junior completed 16 of 17 passes for 186 yards, including orchestrating two-minute drills at the end of each half that turned out to be the difference.
“We can be great when we are balanced,” Tuscarora coach Mike Burnett said.
Reimers also doesn’t get to play the hero for Tuscarora if it wasn’t for two huge plays prior to his game-winning score. For starters, there was senior Warren Miles’ 47-yard kickoff return to midfield after Woodgrove had gone ahead with 1:45 left. If it wasn’t for Woodgrove’s uber-defender senior Atem Ntangtang dragging Miles down, Miles might have taken it to the house.
“We hadn’t had a good return all night. It was just mental focus as we held our blocks on that last return,” Burnett said.
Indeed, Tuscarora’s starting position off Woodgrove senior R.J. Warfel’s towering kickoffs prior to the final return had been at their own 20, 20, 25, 15, and 13. Miles return up the home sidelines electified the crowd and his teammates.
“I thought we had a good chance to score but after the kickoff return I definitely knew we were going to score,” Reimers said.
Woodgrove drew a penalty for too many men on the field before the first snap that put the ball at the Wolverine 45 but the Woodgrove defense regrouped and nearly sealed the road win as they sacked Azzarita from behind, forcing a fumble. Tuscarora senior Darius Anderson, a force on both sides of the ball all night, smothered the loose ball at the Wolverine 48 to keep Tuscarora’s hopes alive.
Azzarita connected on a pair of throws to Jordan Fisher, sandwiched around a debatable pass interference penalty on Woodgrove, to move the ball to the Wolverine 18. Burnett called time out and with just one time out remaining, elected to put the ball in Reimers hands and he cut back to the left through a gaping hole and went almost untouched into the end zone.
“It was whoever had the ball last,” said Woodgrove coach Mike Skinner about a contest where neither team punted all night and both teams scored on their final nine full possessions combined.
After a kickoff return to their own 32, Woodgrove needed some real magic with just 31.9 seconds left. Tuscarora ended things with a sack of Wolverine senior quarterback Tucker Coil, followed by senior Jack Coates picking off a desperation pass with less than 20 seconds left.
“I’m proud of them, we are going to be good,” Skinner said after talking to his hushed team.
The Wolverine players, many with tears streaked on their faces, went to the stadium fence to meet with their parents.
“It’s just tough right now, but we will bounce back,” Sweet said.
Tuscarora trailed in the first half, 14-0, but the Huskies after ending their first two series of the night on downs, scored on their final five drives. Especially in the second half, Tuscarora’s running game was like a series of body blows against Woodgrove’s tiring defense.
The second half game plan was simple according to Reimers: “Keep pounding them, keep pounding them.”
And pound they did as the Huskies opened the third quarter with a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive that put them up 21-17 with 7:16 left in the quarter. Azzarita’s 23-yard completion to Fisher on 3rd-and-7 was key but the one that Woodgrove will be shaking their head at is their offsides on 4th-and-4 when Tuscarora at the ball at their own 31.
The Wolverines even burned a time out prior to the snap and their players were warned to watch out for the bit of pre-snap trickery, but Tuscarora’s line shift prompted several Woodgrove players to jump across the neutral zone.
Woodgrove marched right back, going 81 yards on 11 yards, eight of them Sweet runs, including a highlight reel play inside the Red Zone as Sweet carried a majority of the Tuscarora defense on his back. The junior’s massive legs just kept churning, moving the pile closer to the goal line. Sweet’s 11-yard touchdown made it 24-21 Woodgrove with 1:48 left in the third.
Like a heavyweight fight, Tuscarora punched right back, moving the ball 87 yards on 19 mind-numbing plays to retake the lead on a drive that lasted nearly seven minutes. The Huskies conveted 3rd-and-1, 3rd-and-2, 3rd-and-3 and finally 3rd-and-1 on the drive with Reimers bulldozing in from the 1-yard line with 5:46 left in the game, making it 28-24 Tuscarora.
Both kickers in the game were perfect with junior Chris Miller drilling all five of his extra point for Tuscarora and Woodgrove’s Warfel making four extra points and a 36-yard field goal.
Woodgrove would not give up, as Sweet busted a 39-yard run two plays after Reimers scored to put the ball on the Huskies 34. Nine plays later, six of them Sweet runs, it was Sweet burrowing into the end zone from the 1 on 3rd-and-goal to make it 31-28 with just 1:45 left.
-Dan “Sideline” Sousa is the http://www.VivaLoudoun.com editor.
Tuscarora 35, Woodgrove 31
1: W Sweet 1 run (Warfel kick) 6:03
2: W Panteleo 66 pass from Coil (Warfel kick) 9:06
2: T Reimers 29 run (Miller kick) 7:47
2: W FG Warfel 36 2:34
2: T Reimers 4 run (Miller kick) 0:47
3: T Reimers 8 run (Miller kick) 7:16
3: W Sweet 11 run (Warfel kick) 1:48
4: T Reimers 2 run (Miller kick) 5:46
4: W Sweet 1 run (Warfel kick) 1:45
4: T Reimers 18 run (Miller kick) 0:40
W: Sweet 34-178, Ntangtang 4-43, Coil 7-30. Total 45-251
T: Reimers 27-148, Stinger 7-44, Middleton 4-10, Azzarita 5-7, Abbate 1-4. Total 44-213
W: Coil 3-7-1 109
T: Azzarita 16-17-0 186
W: Panteleo 1-66, Mellor 2-43
T: Fisher 7-98, Middleton 3-25, Coates 3-22, Wall 2-17, Carerra 1-12, Reimers 1-2
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