By Matt Brooks
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 12, 2010; 12:32 AM
LYNCHBURG, VA. - From the opening drive of Saturday's Virginia AA Division 4 final, Harrisonburg made it abundantly clear how it planned to attack Briar Woods. Behind a massive offensive line weighing a combined 1,375 pounds, the Blue Streaks ran right at the Falcons' much smaller defensive line and built a 14-point lead in a one-minute stretch in the first quarter.
But after absorbing Harrisonburg's opening shot, it was the physical running of 5-foot-7, 190-pound running back Michael Brownlee and a relentless defense that wore Harrisonburg down and propelled Briar Woods to its first state championship with a 41-21 victory at Liberty University's Williams Stadium.
The Blue Streaks (13-1) built their early lead behind two touchdown runs by Michael Holmes, who found plenty of room to run behind 6-foot-5, 320-pound Landon Turner (committed to North Carolina) and 6-3, 320-pound Shannon Pouncey. The Falcons (13-2) responded with junior wide receiver Alex Carter fending off a defensive back for a 77-yard touchdown reception from freshman quarterback Trace McSorley and then late in the second quarter, Brownlee broke off a 37-yard scoring run to knot the score at the half.
"In the first half, they hit us hard, they hit us fast," said Brownlee, who rushed for 183 yards and four touchdowns on only 14 carries. "The only way to react to that is to try to get big plays and move the ball down the field. As soon as we caught up, we took that momentum and ran away with it."
After the break, the Falcons turned to their wrecking ball tailback and Brownlee - who missed the first seven games of the season after fracturing his leg on his first touch of the year - shouldered the offensive load. After Holmes's third score gave Harrisonburg a brief 21-20 lead through three quarters, McSorley scored a short touchdown and Brownlee took care of the rest - ripping off touchdown runs of 44 and 34 yards in the final 10 minutes to salt away the win.
The Falcons' defense stepped up in the second half, allowing only 102 total yards after the break. Briar Woods out-gained the Blue Streaks, 455-264, on the night despite 157 rushing yards from Holmes.
"They were definitely huge," said 240-pound junior lineman Justin Baker (12 tackles), who was matched up with Turner. "Our defense bent in that first half, but we didn't break. We got stronger and in the second half it was clear that we wore them out."
The victory extended Ashburn's dominance in Division 4 - rival Broad Run claimed the past two state titles. For Briar Woods Coach Charlie Pierce, lifting the trophy for the first time carried an added significance. In 2000, his first season as a head coach (at Park View) ended with a state final defeat. On Saturday, he got another shot and the Falcons came away victorious.
"It's really sweet for the whole community - it's a community championship," Pierce said. With a grin, he added, "And I guess I'm happy for myself, too."