Tuscarora opened the playoffs exactly the way it began the regular season, with a convincing victory over Millbrook.
But while the 42-21 final score in Friday’s Region II Division 4 quarterfinal was nearly identical to Tuscarora’s 41-21 Week 1 win, the Huskies entered halftime deadlocked at seven.
The Huskies (10-1), who are making their second posteason appearance in the program’s third year, stuck to their script in the third quarter and continued to pound the football with running backs Noah Reimers and Adrien Stinger. Buoyed by a pair of defensive touchdowns from Ryan Abbate and Jack Coates, they exploded for 28 points in the quarter to pull away.
“I think people were a little shocked that we were down 7-0, but we’ve been in other games where we’ve been behind and had to come back,” Tuscarora Coach Mike Burnett said. “Last year, there was a little bit of excitement and giddiness for being in the playoffs the first time. This year, given that scenario, they were very calm. They stayed the course and they were able to execute.”
The Huskies served notice to the rest of the region with a gritty 21-7 win at Loudoun County in September and then added to their growing confidence by executing a last-minute touchdown drive to beat Woodgrove 35-31 late last month.
In both of those wins, the Huskies leaned heavily on Reimers, their sophomore starter, but on Friday, they split their 46 carries between three backs. Reimers finished with 20 for 90 yards, Stinger had 17 for 127 and junior Mali Barker — who missed four weeks early in the season due to an ankle injury — provided a boost with 81 yards and a score on nine carries.
“Noah and Adrien play defense, too, and we need to keep them fresh,” Burnett said. “We had really high hopes for Barker at the beginning of the season, and when he came back, there just weren’t enough carries to go around.
“To be able to throw him in the mix now, it really helps us.”
Tuscarora will need all three to contribute on Friday when it hosts rival Loudoun County with a spot in the region final on the line.
Elsewhere in Leesburg, Loudoun County bowled over short-handed Woodgrove, 36-7. Senior quarterback Jake Lokey threw two of his three touchdown passes to top target Brad Szoka and Matt Arneson rushed for 98 yards and two scores on only nine carries.
The Raiders (9-2) will look to avenge their loss to the Huskies when they travel across town for Friday’s semifinal.
Top-seeded Briar Woods fell behind early at home against Powhatan but stormed back to claim a 34-7 win for their area-best 25th consecutive victory.
Junior quarterback Trace McSorley was intercepted twice in the first half and lost a fumble, but was nearly flawless after the intermission. He finished with four touchdown passes of 27 yards or more — two each to Cam Serigne and Devin Ramos — and the Falcons’ defense continued its stellar play to close out the Indians. The fifth-ranked Falcons (11-0) host Liberty in a semifinal Friday.