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Road warrior Huskies nip top-seed Bulldogs, make state semifinals

The Tuscarora Huskies rejoice following their 28-27 victory against host Stone Bridge in the Region 5C championship game.—Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
The Tuscarora Huskies are getting into a pretty good habit.

Each of the past two Fridays, the Huskies went to Ashburn to face higher-seeded opponents in the Region 5C playoffs, both of whom had beaten Tuscarora in the regular season, and both with more wins than the Huskies.

Still, the boys from Leesburg found ways to vanquish Broad Run on Nov. 17 and Stone Bridge on Nov. 24, surviving the road showdowns by fending off last-minute attempts at game-winning field goals.

The Huskies’ consistent escapability has done more than exact revenge. No. 3 seed Tuscarora (11-2) is the champion of the region and among the final four for the Class 5 state crown.

A home game against Stafford on Dec. 2 at Fortune Field will determine whether Tuscarora plays for it all.

“We didn’t come in intimidated,” Tuscarora head coach Michael Burnett said after his Huskies knocked off No. 1 seed Stone Bridge 28-27 for the region title. “I think a lot of people do. We have immense respect for their team, their program and their coaches, but I don’t think we let that change how we play the game.”

The Huskies’ gameplan looked much like the one that resulted in a narrow 14-13 loss to the Bulldogs in Week 9, emphasizing ball-control offense and assignment defense.

“I think you have the two best teams in the region,” Burnett continued. “It came down to one point the first time, one point the second time. I’m pretty sure it would come down to one point the third time if we played them again.”

The Bulldogs (12-1) were hit with defeat for the first time. Stone Bridge head coach Mickey Thompson said he believed the eventual state champion played in that game.

“Pretty sure of it, to be perfectly honest, based on what I’ve seen. I think Tuscarora will win it now,” Thompson said as his players filed solemnly toward the locker room. The Stone Bridge faithful gathered to serenade them with applause.

“I think the guys felt that way too,” he said. “To come up short is pretty devastating.”

How the region was won

Helped by recovering its own pooch kick, Tuscarora put up two quick touchdowns in the final minute of the first half, surging out to a 21-7 halftime lead and quieting the bleachers packed with Bulldog fans.

Husky senior wideout Kyle Jenkins hauled in three touchdown catches in the second quarter, two from junior quarterback Justin Allen and one - with five seconds left before intermission - when junior running back Leron West zinged it to the corner of the end zone on a halfback option.

Once the second half began, the Bulldogs’ stadium didn’t stay quiet long. With Allen limited after rolling his ankle in the first, Stone Bridge loaded up its pass defense and limited Allen to one completion in his first 11 second-half throws.

On the Huskies’ first five second-half possessions, the Bulldogs made them punt three times and turn it over on downs twice.

Meanwhile, Stone Bridge junior quarterback Mason Tatum connected with big-play senior wideout Daniel Thompson for a pair of scores - he had three overall - and the Bulldogs owned a 27-21 lead with three minutes left.

Allen and the Huskies then engineered a 51-yard, 58-second drive that finished by West with 1:58 on the clock. The big back looked fully recovered from what Burnett called “a badly sprained knee” as he barreled up the middle from eight yards out.

Stone Bridge kept fighting. Junior Ajani Gillis took the ensuing kickoff back to the Tuscarora 35, setting up an eventual 41-yard field goal attempt by junior Hayden Baron. It landed short, allowing the Huskies and their throng of enthusiastic fans to celebrate.

“It’s not about a missed field goal,” Burnett said. “It’s about a lot of plays that we made or didn’t make, that they made or didn’t make. We just hung in there.”

Sophomore kicker Max Skirkanich was perfect on four extra points for Tuscarora, while Stone Bridge was beset by a pair of missed extras.

“We hadn’t missed a kick all year, but you start missing extra points and that’s a killer,” Thompson said. “It was a crazy game, to be perfectly honest. There were a million opportunities for us, a million opportunities for them.”

Thompson reflected on his graduating class, which piled up 44 varsity wins over the past four years.

“I love these guys. One of the best groups of seniors we’ve ever had, talent-wise. It’s going to be hard to replace them,” said the only head coach in Stone Bridge’s 18-year history. “This was one that I thought we could really do something in the state playoffs.”

After claiming the gleaming region trophy, the Huskies themselves looked toward the next challenge.

“We have to have a humble mentality,” Jenkins said. “Okay, we beat Stone Bridge, but we’re not done. We need to get back to practice and get ready to rock-and-roll.”

Senior defensive back Caleb Donofrio said the Huskies gained confidence by upending Stone Bridge “who just about never loses.”

“I think we need to roll with the energy we have right now,” he said, “this momentum from winning these two road games.”

Burnett, the founding head coach in Tuscarora’s eight-year history, responded to how he would calm his team down for the Stafford matchup.

“Why would I calm my team down? We’re just enjoying it,” Burnett said with a broad smile. “I love this group of kids. We don’t plan for it ending. You just can’t. You just try to play football together for one more week.”

What's next

-Class 5 state semifinal

-Region 5D champ Stafford (10-3) at Region 5C champ Tuscarora (11-2)

-Saturday, Dec. 2, 4 p.m.

-Winner advances to Class 5 state championship game

Tuscarora 28, Stone Bridge 27

-First Quarter
SB: Tatum 8 pass to Thompson (Baron kick) 9:31

-Second Quarter
T: Allen 41 pass to Jenkins (Skirkanich kick) 5:14
T: Allen 22 pass to Jenkins (Skirkanich kick) 0:41.3
T: West 14 pass to Jenkins (Skirkanich kick) 0:5.0

-Third Quarter
SB: Tatum 13 pass to Thompson (Tatum pass to Williams) 9:28

-Fourth Quarter
SB: Mell 3 run (kick missed) 10:51
SB: Tatum 8 pass to Thompson (kick missed) 9:20
T: West 8 run (Skirkanich kick) 1:58

Offensive stat leaders

-Rushing - T: West (19-91-1), Lundy (4-8), Allen (4-0); SB: Mell (18-70-1), Johnson (4-15), Tatum (12-12)

-Passing - T: Allen (8 of 27 for 142, 2 TD), West (1 of 1 for 14, TD); SB: Tatum (12 of 29 for 205, 3 TD, Int.)

-Receiving - T: Jenkins (4-83-3), Thorne (4-64), Coombs (1-9); SB: Thompson (9-176-3), Williams (2-22), Mell (1-7)

Photos by Rick Wasser


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