By Matt Brooks
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, November 25, 2010; 10:47 PM
The Briar Woods football team was searching for an offensive spark as it headed into the final two minutes of its season opener at Millbrook. Trailing by one point with no timeouts remaining and their top three running backs sidelined with injuries, the Falcons were forced to scrap their power running game plan.
As offensive coordinator Jared Develli surveyed the sideline, he noticed only one player who remained calm: quarterback Trace McSorley, a 15-year-old, 150-pound freshman. So Develli felt comfortable putting the ball in the hands of one of the youngest starting quarterbacks in the area, and McSorley coolly led the team 90 yards down the field, converting a pair of fourth downs in the process, to set up a game-winning field goal.
Thirteen weeks later, McSorley and the 16th-ranked Falcons (10-2) are enjoying the best season in program history and find themselves one win from a state semifinal berth. Briar Woods hosts Ashburn rival Broad Run, the two-time defending Virginia AA Division 4 champion, on Friday night in the Region II final.
"That drive at Millbrook opened our eyes to what Trace was capable of," Develli, 24, said. "The plan all along was to have our running backs take the load off him. But when we got back from that game and realized what we had lost with all the injuries, I told him, 'Here's the deal, we're jumping on your back.' "
Last fall, as an eighth-grader, McSorley was the starting quarterback on a run-first freshman team. The Falcons' varsity was supposed to feature a similar approach this season, with senior running back Michael Brownlee taking direct snaps on most downs and McSorley's involvement limited to a few specific packages. But after Brownlee broke his leg on his first carry of the season - forcing him to miss seven games - Develli was forced to adopt a short-passing attack that suited McSorley's developing skill set.
The 5-foot-10 signal caller has exceeded expectations, leading the Falcons - whose 56-man postseason roster features 20 sophomores and nine freshmen - to their first Dulles District title, while completing 58 percent of his passes for 1,665 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions and earning district offensive player of the year honors.
McSorley has 1,300 more passing yards than any other freshman quarterback in the area, and with each victory comes more responsibility. After starting the season with three passing formations, McSorley now has 14 at his disposal.
In 21 years of coaching, Briar Woods Coach Charlie Pierce said he has seen only one other freshman quarterback with the composure and potential of McSorley: former Sherando standout and current University of Virginia redshirt freshman Ross Metheny.
"He had an incredibly quick release, but Trace is more accurate," Pierce said. "He's the only other kid that I've seen who's been able to do the things Trace is doing as a freshman. As he gets stronger, it's going to be pretty exciting to see what he can do. He's got the tools to make it happen."
Soft-spoken and preternaturally calm, McSorley's primary focus remains getting the ball into the hands of his receivers as quickly as possible and letting them make plays. After focusing on "not screwing up" through the first half of the season, McSorley says he's become more comfortable and confident directing the Falcons' offense.
"I don't really like being in the spotlight," he said. "I think I'm more of a facilitator. I know how things are supposed to go and where everyone is supposed to be, and it's my job to give them the opportunities to make plays."
Among his targets, McSorley has developed chemistry with sophomore tight end Cameron Serigne, one of his best friends. Serigne - who relays play calls from Develli in the huddle to simplify McSorley's responsibilities - played with McSorley in the Ashburn Youth Football League.
"He can make all the throws he needs to make, and even in tight situations, he's come up big for us," Serigne said. "I always knew he could handle it, but now everyone else is seeing it."
Since Brownlee's return, McSorley's pass attempts are down significantly, and in two playoff games he's completed 5 of 11 passes for 117 yards as the Falcons are forcing teams to prove they can stop the 5-7, 190-pound running back.
But McSorley will need to step up Friday against the 13th-ranked Spartans (11-1), just as he's done throughout the season. In a 20-13 win over Broad Run on Oct. 1, McSorley threw for 185 yards and a touchdown as the Falcons ended the Spartans' 33-game winning streak, a performance that led Broad Run Coach Matt Griffis to remark, "The kid's a stud."
In last week's region semifinal against Liberty, McSorley had a hand in the game's only score, a short pass that junior Alex Carter turned into a 65-yard touchdown in a 7-0 victory. The Falcons won't hesitate to put the ball in their young quarterback's hands with the game on the line on Friday.
"There isn't a doubt in my mind that he's going to be able to make the plays we need him to make," Develli said. "I don't think there is anyone on the Broad Run sideline that doesn't believe he's a weapon, and we're going to use him. We have 100 percent confidence in him, and with Michael back there now, no one has really seen what we can do."