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To reign the region: Bulldogs, Huskies dogfight gets a rematch

Stone Bridge and Tuscarora will square off for the second time this season Nov. 24 in the Region 5C championship game. The Bulldogs edged the Huskies 14-13 in the first meeting.—Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
Last time these two teams played, it meant a lot.

It was late in the regular season, and the four-team horserace that was the Potomac District football championship was in full gallop. John Champe and Broad Run were jockeying for position when unbeaten Stone Bridge and one-loss Tuscarora squared off in Leesburg.

What ensued was a defensive battle between traditionally high-scoring offense-savvy programs, a 14-13 Stone Bridge escape that was truly a game of inches.

This time, when the two teams play again, it will mean much, much more.

In the Region 5C title game Nov. 24, the Stone Bridge Bulldogs host the Tuscarora Huskies to decide who claims supremacy in the region and the spot in the Class 5 state semifinals.

The teams’ respective head coaches expect - and require - a defensive-minded, turnover-free performance like the Week 9 match-up produced back on Oct. 20.

“We’ve got to play a very similar game,” Tuscarora head coach Michael Burnett said. “How do you stop Stone Bridge? Well, you’ve got to keep the ball out of their hands. You’ve got to move the ball down the field. You’ve got to have a ball-control offense.”

Stone Bridge head coach Mickey Thompson believes that strategy and gameplanning won’t be as crucial as the players’ execution on the field.

“I don’t think there’s any secret, x’s and o’s wise, that are going to win the game for us or for them,” Thompson assessed.

It’s not as though either side lacks an offensive arsenal. The Bulldogs boast touchdown-machine Daniel Thompson, a rangy wideout with a knack for separation. Quarterback Mason Tatum has the arm to find him. The primary back out of Stone Bridge’s single-wing alignment is tough-running Nick Mell. Tyrese Johnson is a threat to catch a deep ball or take an end-around.

Meanwhile, the Huskies are led by dual-threat QB Justin Allen and a pair of bruising backs in Jaylon Lundy and Leron West. Freshman receiver Caleb Coombs has emerged as a sure-handed target opposite senior wideout Adam Thorne.

But the difference in the rematch could be the same as in their first meeting: defense. It was defense that won the day in the region semifinals Nov. 17, when Stone Bridge scored twice on defense to lead by 31 in the fourth, while Tuscarora used a pick-six and a late stand to survive and advance.

A crop of talented seniors have built the Bulldogs’ defensive wall, which has held opponents to 14.5 points per game.

“The unique thing about this year is we’re spread out,” senior linebacker Joey Nameth said. “We don’t have just a great offense or a great defense. Both sides of the ball have been amazing for us.”

Nameth is joined by a host of fellow upperclassmen on patrol for Stone Bridge defensive coordinator R.J. Windows. Linebackers Eric Palmer and Cole Gordon, safety Hunter Petrakis, end Jack Kosko and linemen Josh Lawyer and Kellis Martin contribute to the Bulldogs’ stinginess.

The Huskies, whose defense is coordinated by Brandon Wheelbarger, aren’t shy on experience either. Middle linebacker Peter Deer is surrounded by fellow seniors in defensive backs Caleb Donofrio and Chris Broad.

Two more members of the secondary, senior Alex Lee and junior Owen Carey, already have interceptions this playoff season. Lee’s return proved the difference in the Huskies’ region semifinal win.

Moments after that victory, Burnett looked ahead to his team’s rematch with Stone Bridge.

“Hopefully something goes our way at the end of the game like it did tonight,” he said.

Mickey Thompson said he especially enjoys matching coaching wits with his Tuscarora counterpart.

“I didn’t think we played very well [in Week 9], so I’m looking forward to it to see if we can play better. I’m sure they’re going to play better,” he said.

“I really believe I’m not going to out-coach him and he’s not going to out-coach me. The kids are going to win or lose the game on the field, which is the way it should be.”

Region 5C Championship

-Who: Stone Bridge vs. Tuscarora

-When: Fri., Nov. 24, 2 p.m.

-Where: Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn

-Last meeting: Stone Bridge 14, Tuscarora 13

-Winner gets: Berth in Class 5 state semifinal

Stone Bridge Bulldogs

-Record: 12-0

-Points for: 496

-Points against: 175

-Region seed: No. 1

-How they got here: Def. No. 8 Lee 42-21; Def. No. 5 Champe 45-22

Tuscarora Huskies

-Record: 10-2

-Points for: 369

-Points against: 199

-Region seed: No. 3

-How they got here: Def. No. 6 Potomac Falls 28-7; Def. No. 2 Broad Run 14-12

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