Some 11th-hour air pressure issues with Tuscarora’s blow-up helmet tunnel could have been construed as a harbinger that the Huskies would come out flat in Friday’s “Battle of the Burg” grudge match against Loudoun County.
But Tuscarora — which was out to avenge a loss at the hands of the Raiders in last year’s Region II playoffs — may have been running on too much adrenaline early on in its 48-14 victory in Leesburg.
“I think it was an issue of nerves in the sense that our kids were very excited for this game,” Huskies Coach Mike Burnett said. “We made mistakes, and they capitalized on them.”
Loudoun County (3-2) jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but the Huskies reeled off 41 unanswered points en route to the win.
Tuscarora (6-0) flipped the momentum on a third-and-15 play from the Raiders 40-yard line midway through the first quarter. Sophomore quarterback Daniel Smith caught the snap and rolled right. As Loudoun County’s line gave chase, Smith stopped on a dime and lofted a screen to senior running back Mali Barker. Barker rumbled down the left sideline for 31 yards and a first down.
Later in the drive, junior running back Noah Reimers found the end zone on a pitch from nine yards out to knot the score at seven with 57 seconds left in the quarter.
“We’ve worked on that [screen] all season,” Smith said of the third-down conversion. “The linemen got downfield and blocked, and we executed it really well and got a big play out of it.”
Raiders quarterback Tae Crews-Naylor opened the game in top form — going six for eight for 93 yards and a touchdown pass to senior receiver Michael Rexrode. But the junior passer never bounced back from a second-quarter interception recorded by Tuscarora’s Nick Giuliano.
Crews-Naylor pointed to a defensive adjustment made by the Huskies late in the first half that crippled his ability to push the pocket.
“[Tuscarora] started having two linebackers spy me, and they still were dropping back so it was much tougher,” he said. “Whenever I moved, the linebackers replaced wherever I was going.”
Barker and Smith each scored a pair of rushing touchdowns, and in all five different Huskies found the end zone.
Reimers lost a goal-line fumble, but rebounded to rush for 90 yards on 12 carries by halftime. He sat the entire second half with the game in hand.
When the Huskies fell behind by a touchdown early, Barker dialed up a mental image of last year’s playoff loss.
“Our attitude changed,” Barker said. “We couldn’t let Loudoun County beat us again. The game last year was devastating for us.”
And unbeaten coming in, the Huskies were ripe for a statement game.
“We wanted to show the fans that we’re better than them,” Smith said, “just a better football team.”