Last weekend was one of comebacks for Potomac Falls. Not only did the Panthers overcome two deficits en route to a 14-13 victory over Loudoun County, but Potomac Falls junior quarterback Joe Reilly made a triumphant return to a starting and leading role.
Reilly, the most experienced area quarterback entering the season, struggled through the first four games. He completed 19 of 56 passes for 193 yards and threw four interceptions in those four starts. Moreover, in the second game of the season, he was lifted at halftime, and senior Brian Hokamp directed the Panthers to a 13-10 come-from-behind victory over Jefferson (W.Va.).
After throwing three interceptions in a 21-7 loss at Fauquier, Reilly was benched. The Panthers promptly defeated Caroline, 26-7, the following week, and it seemed Reilly would not be back on the field any time soon.
But after losing his Dulles District opener to Loudoun Valley on Oct. 20, Panthers Coach Casey Childs needed some spark. He turned back to Reilly, knowing his strong arm might be able to break Loudoun County's pass defense. Sure enough, Reilly completed 11 of 17 passes for 181 yards and threw a six-yard scoring pass to senior Adam Hendricks with just under three minutes to play for the deciding points.
"He showed what he thought he was going to do all year through two-a-days," Childs said. "He made big throws under pressure. The throw to Hendricks, he never saw Adam catch the ball. He was on his back. . . .
"I knew we had to pass the ball against Loudoun County. I told him Tuesday [that he was going to start], and all the players knew we'd be in good hands with Joe."
Loudoun County Coach Pat McManus said: "That was the best I've seen a team throw the ball this year, especially after not being outside [to practice] for three weeks. Their timing was unbelievable."
Reilly said his time on the bench made him realize that even with his strong sophomore season, no player's spot in the lineup is guaranteed.
"I was just waiting for my turn, but I was working twice as hard all along, staying after practice," Reilly said. "There's always someone pushing you, staying on your back. If I made the mistakes like I did, I shouldn't have been in there. But my teammates were behind me. . . . I think this is the turning point of our season."
The Panthers host Broad Run tomorrow before ending the season at Park View and home against Stone Bridge.
Raiders' Travails Loudoun County has exhibited unexpected collapses in both of its losses this season: Saturday against Potomac Falls as well as a 13-10 defeat to Liberty on Oct. 4.
With five minutes to play in both games, the Raiders appeared to lead comfortably -- 10-0 against Liberty and 13-7 versus the Panthers. Moreover, Loudoun County's offense, which features a host of ball carriers substituting all game long to keep each other fresh, often allows the Raiders to wear down opponents late in the game and give them a decisive fourth-quarter edge.
In its five victories, Loudoun County has outscored its opponents 101-33 in the second half and has scored at least 19 fourth-quarter points in three separate games. But in its two losses, the Raiders' opponents have scored 27 points, all after halftime.
"In those games, we were in decent shape [as far as energy] to move the ball," McManus said. "But we were struggling to move the ball all day. They forced us to do some things that we don't like to do. This game, it seemed like we were struggling just to keep a drive alive."
Break for Northwestern Although sites were changed and games were occasionally pushed back a day or two, the Northwestern District's schedule did not change much during the three weeks of the area sniper shootings. Yet, while the Dulles District returned to action last weekend, the Northwestern took a break. Safety, however, was not the reason.
Unlike many Washington area districts, the Northwestern pulls its six schools from four schools systems, which did not all adhere to the same safety restrictions on practices. Fauquier and Liberty were unable to go outside, while the rest of the schools did.
It was clear in both Fauquier's 28-17 loss at Handley and Liberty's 3-2 defeat to James Wood on Oct. 19 that the Fauquier County schools' inability to practice outside gave its opponents an advantage.
"The [athletic directors] made the decision not to play because it was in the best interest of all the schools concerned," said Fauquier Coach Tom Ferrell. "I think that in the long run, it'll be for the best. We weren't ready to play [against Handley]. Our timing was off. We would have been much better prepared for it if we went outside and practiced."
Games from last weekend will be made up Nov. 15-16, the extra week added to the regular season by the Virginia High School League. The final game of the season -- Liberty at Handley on Nov. 16 -- might decide the district champion and determine playoff spots in both Divisions 3 and 4.