CHARLOTTESVILLE — As time expired in Saturday’s Virginia 5A championship at the University of Virginia, Trace McSorley crouched over at the 40-yard line, emotionally dejected. The senior didn’t know what this feeling was.
In a four-year career that saw Briar Woods claim three state championships, McSorley had never experienced a season-ending defeat. But with a furious second-half rally, L.C. Bird put an end to the Falcons’ remarkable run with a 35-28 victory at Scott Stadium for a second straight title.
McSorley had given his all on defense (10 tackles, one interception) and threw masterfully (255 yards, three touchdowns), but it wasn’t quite enough on a wet, frigid afternoon.
“We left plays out there that we could have made,” McSorley said. “Part of me was just stunned about the outcome. This whole week you play out things coming out completely different, so when it doesn’t [go that way] it’s a big hit.”
After the final whistle, the third-ranked Falcons found themselves watching the Skyhawks (15-0) receive a trophy that two quarters prior looked like it was theirs to lose.
Briar Woods (13-2) took a 21-6 lead into the half, but key injuries to wide receiver Brandon Polk and cornerback Chris McMillian combined with Bird’s inspired play to alter the game’s course in the final 24 minutes. The Falcons allowed four second-half touchdowns, and the offense went stagnant, scoring just once.
Briar Woods led 28-20 early in the fourth quarter after McSorley hit Melvin Holland, Jr. (five catches, 199 yards) for a 73-yard touchdown — Holland’s third of the day. But from there, Terrance Ervin hit Earl Hughes for an 11-yard touchdown pass, and after a tipped pass resulted in a Skyhawks interception, Hughes made a dazzling run down the right sideline for the decisive touchdown with 4 minutes 22 seconds remaining. Briar Woods drove deep into Bird territory but could not respond.
“I think we played well overall as a defense,” junior linebacker Dominic Moore said. “We knew the game plan, and our players executed, but it wasn’t enough.”
After a 4-6 season in 2009, Briar Woods Coach Charlie Pierce brought his juniors in for a meeting and told them they needed better senior leadership moving forward. The players took those words to heart, and over the last four years, the Falcons have established themselves as a state power, compiling a 55-5 record with three state championships.
Holland, whose family moved to Ashburn from the Westfield school district before his freshman year, has become one of the senior leaders in the Falcons’ locker room.
“It’s unbelievable, man. I love this team,” Holland said. “I couldn’t imagine being with anybody else.”
As McSorley came to grips with the end of the Falcons’ four-year run on the field, offensive coordinator Jared Develli jogged over to embrace his quarterback.
“It’s been a blessing the last four years, it’s been a crazy ride,” McSorley said. “My eighth grade year, the 2009 season, you would have never thought it would end like this. I’m just happy to be a part of the program’s growth and success. I feel blessed and honored, and it feels like it went by way too fast.”