Briar Woods’s Alex Carter, a Stanford recruit, breaks free for yards during last season’s Va. AA Div. 4 final against Harrisonburg. (Tracy A Woodward/WASHINGTON POST)

Trailing a bigger, more experienced Harrisonburg team 14-0 late in the first quarter of last season’s Virginia Division 4 final, Briar Woods’s freshman quarterback Trace McSorley felt his team’s dream season slipping away. He knew the Falcons desperately needed a big play to change the momentum — and he knew exactly where to find it.

McSorley lofted a deep pass down the right sideline where wide receiver Alex Carter was blanketed by a defender. The ball was slightly underthrown, but with his rare blend of athleticism and concentration, Carter hauled in the pass, shed the tackler and bolted 77 yards for a touchdown. The Falcons blitzed Harrisonburg the rest of the way, notching a 41-21 victory to capture the school’s first state championship.

“Every now and then you sort of get a feeling like, ‘Only Alex can do something like that,’ ” McSorley said. “I kind of just threw it up there. And when I first let it go, it looked like the defender had a bead on the ball, but somehow, Alex was able to tip it to himself, catch it, keep his balance and take it all the way. That one play really jump-started our team, and from there we just rode it.”

The No. 6 Falcons (13-1) return to Lynchburg on Saturday looking to capture a second consecutive title when they take the field against Christiansburg (12-1) — and Carter remains their catalyst, doing things only he can do.

“Every time I touch the ball I’m going to try to make a play,” Carter said. “Offense, defense, special teams, it doesn’t matter. When I get the ball, I’m going to try to do something with it.”

The son of former Washington Redskins cornerback Tom Carter, Alex began his high school career at area private school powerhouse DeMatha. But the lengthy commute from Ashburn to Hyattsville proved too draining, so midway through his freshman year, he transferred to his local public school. In its fourth year at the time, the Falcons’ fledgling football program had yet to advance beyond the first round of the regional playoffs.

But last season, as the team began its rise to the top of Group AA football, Carter’s growing highlight reel made the 6-foot, 195-pound senior one of the most heralded recruits ever in Loudoun County. In April, he committed to play for Stanford.

“Alex is a once-in-a-lifetime player from a coaching perspective and we’re fortunate to have him,” Briar Woods Coach Charlie Pierce said. “He has the knack for coming up with big plays that get us over the hump and get us going.”

From improbable kickoff returns to critical interceptions like the one he made in the end zone of last week’s 31-0 rout of Grafton, Carter finds a way to make his presence felt each week. Through 14 games, he has more than 1,300 all-purpose yards and 10 total touchdowns — seven on offense, one on an interception return and two on kickoffs. But with the added attention brought on by his 20-some-odd scholarship offers, selection to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and recent Gatorade Virginia Football Player of the Year honors, he’s become just as valuable as a decoy as he is with the ball in his hands. Defenses that overload on Carter have done so at their own peril.

“If you double- or triple-team Alex, you’re leaving someone open,” junior tight end Cam Serigne said. “With his reputation, you know teams are going to fear him. They’re going to focus on him, and that opens it up for everyone else.”

Despite a drop in offensive touches, the role of distraction is one Carter doesn’t mind.

“I’m used to it,” he said. “And I’m okay with being a decoy a lot of the time, because we have so many other guys who can make a play when we need them to.”