Over the past three seasons, the Potomac Falls Panthers have owned the month of February, racking up a near-perfect 24-1 mark that paved the way for consecutive state championships.
But the one blemish — a 57-37 mauling by Loudoun Valley in last Saturday’s Dulles District title game — left an unfamiliar, bitter taste in the Panthers’ mouths.
In a Saturday night rematch at Loudoun Valley with the Region II Division 4 championship on the line, the Panthers made sure not to waste a chance to make amends.
With senior Greg Graves leading the way, the Panthers engineered a furious fourth-quarter rally, took over the backboards and made just enough free throws down the stretch to pull out a 48-44 victory and capture a third straight region title.
“This is a game that we all wanted,” Graves said. “They embarrassed us last week and we came in here and said, ‘We’re not going to let that happen again.’ ”
In three previous meetings this season, the Panthers (20-8) tried to assert their up-and-down game on Loudoun Valley to no avail. This time, Potomac Falls willingly played at the Vikings’ methodical pace, passing the ball around the perimeter for 75 seconds before taking a shot on their opening possession.
“We said if we can’t get them to play our game, then we’ve got to play their game,” Potomac Falls coach Jeff Hawes said.
Still, Valley’s unrivaled length in its zone defense clogged passing lanes and altered shots. And riding scorching perimeter shooting from senior John Yoxthimer (17 points), the Vikings (24-4) took a 26-19 lead into halftime.
But with the Panthers trailing by seven early in the fourth quarter, Graves became a man possessed on the backboards, following his own misses and cleaning up on the defensive end while his teammates’ shots began to fall.
D’Shawn Shorts hit a three-pointer to pull Potomac Falls within one, and with 2 minutes 23 seconds remaining, freshman Wanya Allen’s runner gave the Panthers their first lead at 41-40. From there, Potomac Falls locked in defensively, while the Vikings settled for perimeter shots. Valley missed 12 of its final 13 attempts while the Panthers hit four of eight free throws to seal the win.
“It’s playoff time, it’s win or go home,” said Graves who finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds. “We don’t want to go home — not yet. This is a talented team, and it’s showing now.”
Potomac Falls will face Tabb next weekend at Robinson in a rematch of a thrilling 2011 state quarterfinal won by the Panthers on a last-second layup. The Vikings will travel to William & Mary to face Region I champion Grafton.
In the Region II Division 4 girls’ final, two-time defending state champion Millbrook cruised to its 77th consecutive victory with a 68-41 win over Loudoun County, which will take on Region I champion Grafton in the state quarterfinals at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Second-year Woodgrove fell to defending state champions Liberty in the Region II Division 3 final, 39-34. The Wolverines will face James Monroe in next week’s state tournament.