Tuesday (Afternoon) Quarterback
While everyone is looking ahead to the start of the playoffs this weekend, today we take a look back at the teams whose seasons are now complete. While Broad Run, Stone Bridge, Park View and Loudoun County march onward with high hopes, the six remaining Loudoun teams will mull over their regular season successes and failures and look toward 2010.
Briar Woods Falcons (4-6)
With three straight playoff appearances entering the season, the Falcons had high hopes in their first year at the Region II Division 4 level. Those quickly faded following a dismal 1-6 start to the season. But in final few weeks of the season, no team showed more determination and resolve than Briar Woods, whose three-game winning streak to end the regular season schedule nearly landed them back in the postseason. Along the way, the Falcons dismantled the second seed in Division 3, Park View, and stamped out Dominion's playoff hopes with an impressive 35-12 victory on senior night in Brambleton. No season that ends after 10 games will be considered a success at Briar Woods, not with the way this program had developed into a district power in the last three years, but after the dust settles, Charlie Pierce will certainly be proud of the way his team closed out the season - with the gritty, hard-nosed style of play that you think of the moment you see those bright orange jerseys.
2010 outlook: The Falcons' youth this season was no secret as the team entered the fall with plenty of questions at key skill positions. If there's one thing to take away from this season, it's the rising star in their backfield, junior Michael Brownlee. Whether they carry over the wildcat-style offense they used in the season's final weeks with Brownlee taking direct snaps and throwing the occasional pass to keep defenses honest, or if they go back to a conventional backfield set, there's little doubt this guy will be one of the top rushers in the district once again next fall. Anytime you can bring back a 1,000-yard rusher with a completion percentage of 77, you have to feel pretty good about your offensive prospects. The Falcons will lose leading receiver Kyle Haufler to graduation along with part-time starting QB Austin Frattali, stalwart fullback Billy McDonald and multiple starters on both sides of the ball. But they also return sophomore QB Mark Leith who struggled in limited action this season but should improve with a full offseason at the varsity level. It will still take some work to get Briar Woods back to full form, but with the way the Falcons ended 2009, there's plenty of reason for optimism heading into 2010.
Dominion Titans (4-6)
The prevailing feeling in Sterling right now has to be frustration and disappointment. The Titans had the program's first postseason berth in their hands but let it slip away with lopsided district losses to Park View and Briar Woods to end the season. After a poor start to the season, Dominion rallied in the halftime locker room at Wakefield where they stormed back from a 21-7 deficit to get their first victory and kick-start a three-game winning streak. Even after losing QB Trey Baxter to a shoulder injury in a loss to Broad Run, the Titans nearly knocked off Loudoun County and bounced back to hammer AAA playoff qualifier South Lakes the following week. Led by junior running back Deandre Reaves, the team was poised for the playoffs but they simply seemed to run out of gas in the final two weeks. Still, with a 1-9 season in the rear-view mirror, the 2009 campaign was a true beacon of hope and a sign of serious progress for Karl Buckwalter in his second year.
2010 outlook: The Titans return several skill players next year including Reaves, Baxter, wideout Sammy Coleman, sophomore running back Dashaun Wesley and defensive starter B.J. Silva among several others. They'll lose their leader on defense in linebacker-turned lineman Riley Sullivan, meaning someone else will need to step up as the vocal and emotional leader of a unit that was dominant at times but also very inconsistent. To build on the success of this season, the Titans need to rally around their rising seniors, build more depth through offseason workouts and continue to develop a more balanced offensive attack that takes some of the pressure off Reaves and the running game. Look for this team to take the next step in 2010 and crack the playoffs for the first time in program history.
Freedom Eagles (2-8)
The Eagles were the surprise team in the county after a 2-0 start but quickly tumbled back to earth with the start of the district schedule. In Mick Mullins' debut campaign, Freedom showed plenty of signs of improvement, generating plenty of excitement with two non-district wins to start the season while putting up 34 points in the first three weeks. But from there, the struggles began, and in their final seven games, the Eagles managed to score 10 points only once and were shutout three times. Injuries continued to plague the program as senior running back Jeff Pugh again missed time due to injuries, forcing inexperienced players to shoulder the load in the backfield while QB Chuck Thompson struggled to find his rhythm in the passing game. The Eagles are still searching for that elusive first Dulles District victory.
2010 outlook: We've already seen the jump that's possible from year one to year two with a new coach leading a Loudoun program - just ask Danny McGrath or Karl Buckwalter - so you have to like Mullins' chances of turning things around this summer to prepare for the fall. Freedom is still a young school with plenty of growing pains, but with the success experienced on the basketball court last winter, the rest of the school's teams have realized what's possible with lots of hard work and dedication. Look for Mullins and his team to get things going next season with a full offseason under their belts.
Heritage Pride (2-8)
Steve Williams' first year as head coach in Leesburg was no cakewalk, and that was by his own design. The Pride hung tough with former league-mates Broad Run and Stone Bridge during a brutal non-district stretch to start the season but never gained much traction in their new Cedar Run home. Wins over Loudoun Valley and Stonewall Jackson were the lone highlights during a season that saw the Pride fall behind early and play catch up in most of their contests. But that pattern allowed sophomore quarterback Austin Nelson to emerge as a potential future star in the league. In nine games, Nelson completed nearly 50 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,429 yards and 14 touchdowns as a first-time starter. His consistent production under center will be the catalyst for this offense in the coming seasons, and if the Pride can surround him with capable playmakers, it won't be long before Heritage is back in the playoff hunt.
2010 outlook: In addition to Nelson, the Pride will bring back 6-4 junior wideout Dan Dykema (34 rec., 541 yards, 6 TDs) as his primary target as well as junior RB/DB Aaron Summers. But the losses of RB/DB David McCarthy, WR/DB Scott Pratz and TE/DL Elijah Calhoun leave a multitude of holes on both sides of the ball. For a team that was held under 600 yards rushing on the year, finding a primary tailback will be a priority. The defense also needs some fortification after giving up 35 or more points in half of its games this fall. But with Williams getting another full offseason as this team's leader and Nelson developing at the quarterback position, the Pride should be on the rise in 2010.
Loudoun Valley Vikings (6-4)
The Loudoun Valley administrators that took a chance on a first-time head coach named Danny McGrath prior to the 2008 season reaped the rewards this season as the Vikings went from league doormat to playoff contender in a single season. Valley rolled to an impressive 3-1 start, equaling the team's win total from its two previous seasons combined and following a late three-game winning streak, the Vikings controlled their own playoff destiny in a season finale against Battlefield. A 2-2 mark in the league is a substantial step up and had it not been for a late Austin Nelson touchdown pass in a loss to Heritage on Sept. 25, the Vikings might still be playing. Credit McGrath with instilling excitement and energy into a program that needed a shot in the arm. Now he's laid the ground work for future success, which should come very soon for players and fans in Purcellville.
2010 outlook: Junior quarterback Andrew Taylor got better as the season progressed and finished the year with 1,528 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. His continued development alongside junior receivers Garrett Kranias and Cole Miller should establish the foundation for a high-powered offense next fall. Senior running backs Ricky Simmons and Bernard Thompson combined for 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns and will be hard to replace, but the Vikes will still have junior fullback Kevin Wiley for short-yardage and goal-line situations. Defensively, Valley was a much better team in 2009, allowing only 15.4 points per game after giving up 31 in 2008. For the Vikings to challenge Cedar Run powers Battlefield and Osbourn, they'll need to continue that improvement on both sides of the ball. But if Valley can go from 1-9 to 6-4 in year two of the Danny McGrath regime, the expectations will continue to soar in Purcellville with the anticipation of year three.
Potomac Falls Panthers (3-7)
The Panthers entered the fall determined to prove last season's 10-2 season was not an anomaly, but rather the start of something special in Sterling. But after everything this team lost from 2008, the expectations for another postseason appearance may have been a big too lofty. After winning two of three to start the non-district schedule, the Panthers were held to seven points or fewer in four of their next five. And after a rout of Freedom, Potomac Falls ended the season with back-to-back blowout losses at the hands of the Dulles District's two Region II Division 4 playoff teams - Broad Run and Loudoun County. Injuries took their toll on an already thin roster, limiting early-season playing time for junior quarterback Zac Hobby and forcing several key starters off the field for stretches during the season. But the Panthers made some personnel discoveries late in the season that should suit them well for 2010, like the emergence of running back Brandon Brown who rushed for 147 yards against Freedom and scored three times in the season's final three weeks.
2010 outlook: With only 12 seniors on the roster this fall, the Panthers won't experience the mass exodus that hit them last spring. Of the departing seniors, big-play wide receiver Tarrell Owens and lineman Mason Mehalic will be the most difficult to replace. But Brown and Hobby will be back along with junior tailback Leo Pittman III, sophomore QB Kyle Bulger - who finished the season under center for the Panthers - and junior TE/LB Matt Hoover. That group will try to turn things around next season for a program whose success makes everything more interesting in the Dulles District.
And this week's Varsity Debate
Northern Region Division 5 Quarterfinals
No. 8 South Lakes (5-5) at No. 1 Stone Bridge (9-1)
Region II Division 4 Quarterfinals
No. 6 James Wood (6-4) at No. 3 Loudoun County (8-2)
Bye: No. 1 Broad Run (10-0)
Region II Division 3
Bye: Park View (7-3)
November 10, 2009; 12:58 PM ET
Categories: Briar Woods High School , Dominion High School , Football , Freedom High School , Heritage High School , Loudoun Valley High School , Potomac Falls High School
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