Lake Braddock quarterback Michael Nebrich might very well be the best player at his position in the Northern Region. But when Nebrich and his Bruins’ teammates take the field this Friday night to play visiting Langley High in a first round Northern Region Div. 6 high school football playoff game at 7:30, they will be meeting an opponent that also has a top tier quarterback.
The Saxons have one of the most high-powered offenses in the region, thanks to gifted senior quarterback Braden Anderson and a couple other talented skill position standouts. In past years under longtime and current head coach John Howerton, Langley stressed a more conservative run-first offense with little emphasis on the passing game. Howerton said recently the Saxons never really had the gifted QB or receivers to put more emphasis on the aerial game.
But that has changed the last two seasons with Anderson behind the center. The 6-foot-3 inch signal caller has passed for a school record 2,300 yards this season in helping Langley to a 6-4 record over the regular season. His primary target has been 6-foot-2 inch wide receiver Troy Scharfen, who has over 1,500 pass receiving yards. Nebrich and wideout Matt Zanellato have been the region’s top passing combination this season, but Anderson and Scharfen are undoubtedly second best and the Bruins’ defense will have a tall order in slowing the Saxons’ passing attack down. On top of its prolific air game, Langley boasts a 1,000-yard rusher in sophomore running back Philip Mun.
Howerton has always developed strong, fundamentally sound offensive lines and this year is no exception. The Saxons’ front five have been the foundation for Langley’s success in moving the football.
"Our line is very talented," said Howerton.
<b>LAKE BRADDOCK (9-1)</b>, the defending Div. 6 region champion and this year’s Patriot District champion, soundly defeated Langley, 49-10, back on Sept. 3 in both teams’ season opener game played at Lake Braddock. That night, Nebrich completed 18-of-28 passes for 240 yards and four touchdown passes. He also ran the ball for 71 yards and two scores. Zanellato had a huge game, catching 11 balls, including three scoring catches, for 180 yards. Also, Tanner Quigley, a junior wideout, caught six balls for 41 yards and a score.
Meanwhile, on the Langley side that game, Anderson completed 20-of-39 passes for 243 yards. One of his completions was a 58-yard scoring pass to Scharfen, who caught 13 balls for 201 yards in that regular season meeting. But the Bruins’ defense shut down the Langley running game, holding Mun to 32 yards.
"We were competitive with them in the first half," said Howerton, who’s Saxons scored all 10 of their points in the second quarter and trailed at the intermission, 21-10. "We obviously had our hands full in trying to defend them."
Howerton said it’s mandatory that the Langley defense not allow Nebrich to run the football for big yardage if the Saxons hope to upset Lake Braddock on Friday.
"A big asset for him is that he can really run," said Howerton, of Nebrich. "You’ve got to have [a defender] hovering over the top [shadowing him] to account for that."
Howerton and Lake Braddock head coach Jim Poythress are lifelong friends. They grew up together on the Route 1 South corridor of Alexandria and both attended and played football at the old Fort Hunt High School in the late 1970s.
"Jim was one year behind me," said Howerton. "We had a paint business together in the summer."
During their early coaching days both worked together as assistants at West Potomac High School under former head coach Dale Eaton. Ultimately, Howerton took over for Eaton at the helm of the program and directed the Wolverines to a region title in 2000. Poythress was West Potomac’s defensive coordinator that season.
Howerton said the two have remained close and talk about once a week over the phone, discussing their respective teams and exchanging thoughts on opponents. Now, the two buddies will see their respective teams clash in a postseason game that will end the season for the losing team.
<b>THE BRUINS</b>, in Friday’s playoff encounter, will be going up against a Langley team coming off perhaps its most impressive win of the season – a week 10, 56-12 victory over Liberty District and cross-town rival McLean, a team that won its first eight games this season. Howerton said there were at least 3,500 fans in the Langley stadium for the game, the largest turnout he has seen during his tenure as the Saxons’ head coach.
"There wasn’t an empty seat in either bleacher," he said. "Capital One sponsored the game and it was a [fun] carnival atmosphere. Fans were lined up along the fence [surrounding the field]. It’s the biggest home crowd I’ve ever seen here."
The win for the Saxons helped avenge an overtime loss to the Highlanders a year ago when McLean had beaten Langley for the first time in 12 seasons.
"Our guys were chomping at the bit to play them," said Howerton, of his team’s mindset going into last week’s meeting against McLean.
"Certainly winning against a big rival like that and winning big might brighten the eyes of our kids," said Howerton, when asked if the triumph over the Highlanders will give the Saxons added confidence against the Bruins this week.
The coach said Langley is a much improved team than the squad Lake Braddock faced in the season’s opening week.
"We’re much better now than we were then and we’ve come a long way," said Howerton. "We’re throwing the ball very well and we have a good running game."