By Matt Brooks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010; 12:08 AM
Over the last four weeks, Briar Woods demonstrated its ability to adapt to opposing defenses with variety and creativity in the running and passing game. But while the offense has found success in a different form with each new opponent, the Falcons' defense remains rock solid.
Saturday, in a Virginia AA Division 4 semifinal against Courtland, that stubbornly consistent defense put together its most dominant performance of the season. With a flurry of big plays from the defense and special teams, the Falcons scored on their first seven possessions, thoroughly dismantling the Cougars and earning their first state final trip with a 52-8 victory.
"We have to come out with intensity and set the tone from the start," senior defensive back Victor Rizzardi said. "It seemed like every single guy made a big play today. It was all or nothing and we just came out here and put on a show."
After allowing a 22-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, the Falcons (12-2) stifled Courtland's offense for the rest of the half. When Briar Woods's first drive stalled, resulting in a field goal, the defense got the ball right back.
The Cougars (8-5) went three-and-out on their ensuing possession and junior Joe Rizzardi blocked the punt. On the next play, freshman quarterback Trace McSorley hit the elder Rizzardi on a five-yard touchdown pass. Two plays later, Matt Rolin picked off Nick Zaluzney to set up McSorley's one-yard touchdown run and three plays into Courtland's next possession, senior Scott Rolin made a diving interception over the middle to set up the first of Michael Brownlee's three touchdown runs.
The Falcons piled up 24 points in just over five minutes and scored three more touchdowns in the final 5 minutes 31 seconds of the first half to take a 45-0 lead into the break.
In all, Briar Woods intercepted five passes, blocked a punt and recovered a fumble.
McSorley was 6-for-6 passing for 88 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but rolled an ankle when he was hit late while holding on an extra point late in the first half and did not return. Brownlee rushed for 86 yards and junior Ryan Bumbray - who took direct snaps in McSorley's stead - racked up 54 yards on 14 carries. The Falcons will face Harrisonburg (13-0) - a 28-21 double-overtime winner over Christiansburg - in Saturday's state final at Liberty University, where defense will once again be the key.
"You couldn't draw it up any better on the whiteboard," said Coach Charlie Pierce, who will return to the state final for the first time since his Park View team lost the 2000 title game. "If you get the defense to set the tone in championship games, then other things will fall into place."