The Lake Braddock High football team is best known for its vaunted high-scoring offensive attack which is spear-headed by versatile senior quarterback Michael Nebrich. But a key component of the Bruins’ team this season, much like a year ago when Lake Braddock won the Div. 6 Northern Region title, is its less than heralded, bend-but-not-break defense.
If Lake Braddock is going to successfully defend its Div. 6 region crown, it’s stout, determined defense, which has allowed an average of 10 points a game, will most likely be the underlining force behind such an accomplishment.
Last Friday night, Lake Braddock’s `D’ made enough big plays and key stops to help the Bruins defeat a talented Langley team, 34-10, in a Div. 6 region quarterfinals playoff game. The Saxons, the No. 8-seed of the eight-team playoff format, entered the first round postseason game as one of the most prolific scoring teams in the region behind their fine senior quarterback Braden Anderson. Next to Nebrich, Anderson is regarded as perhaps the second best quarterback in the region.
But Langley’s offense, despite moving the ball well against Lake Braddock, could not break through for a big scoring night – a mission it needed to accomplish against the top-seeded Bruins.
Anderson had a good night, completing 19 of 35 passes for 241 yards. The tall pocket passer, regarded as Langley’s best-ever quarterback, threw two interceptions, but he also caused a lot of headaches for the Bruins’ secondary by finding his open receivers and leading his team to good yardage. His primary target, as it has been all season, was wide receiver Troy Scharfen, who caught eight passes for 85 yards.
Other big receiving nights for the Saxons came from senior receiver Robert Hood (3 catches, 95 yards) and junior fullback A.J. Holtberg (4 for 30). Langley running back Philip Mun gave the Saxons’ offense good balance with 86 yards rushing on 17 carries. He scored his team’s lone touchdown when he crossed the goal line from six yards out in the third quarter. Langley’s only other points came back in the first quarter on a 25-yard field goal by senior Farhan Khan that put the Saxons ahead 3-0 early.
Lake Braddock head coach Jim Poythress, going into the game, knew Langley had the potential to score enough points to beat his team. But Langley, while moving the football, was not able to cash in for more points.
“I was very nervous about the Langley game,” said Poythress, a longtime friend of Langley head coach John Howerton. “When they went up 3-0, I thought, `it’s never easy’. The passes they were able to complete and the types of catches they made were very impressive.
Watching tape after the game only solidified those feelings.”
<b>LANGLEY’S DEFENSE</b> had its hands more than full in trying to slow down one of the best offenses in Virginia. Nebrich, the Bruins’ QB, was the lynch pin, completing 17-of 24 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a game-high 127 yards and two scores on 19 carries. His scoring passes went to senior wide receiver Chris Williams (5 catches, 50 yards) from 12 yards out and senior wide receiver Matt Zanellato (4 for 59) from 23 yards away. He did throw one interception.
Howerton knew his team would have to limit Nebrich’s two-way (passing, running) effectiveness. But, like so many other defenses that the Bruins have moved the ball against the season, the Saxons could not hold Nebrich in check.
Lake Braddock, along with Nebrich’s running success, also had a huge game running the football from senior running back Andrew Fletcher, who rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown (12-yard scoring run) on 15 carries.
Poythress said he felt bad after the game for the Saxons and Howerton, whom he grew up with in the Fort Hunt area of Alexandria and later coached with at West Potomac.
“As far as playing John's team, it was not a great feeling to beat them,” said Poythress, whose team led the Saxons, 21-3, at halftime. “I know how much losing hurts and I could sense the pain in the Saxon player's faces after the game. They played really hard. On the other hand, I'd much rather have them a bit sad then my team. I do not really like playing John. It is a lose-lose scenario.”
Lake Braddock (10-1) will next host local rival Robinson this Friday night in a region semifinals game. The No. 4-seeded Rams (9-2) were 14-7 winners over Oakton in a quarterfinals round playoff game last Friday.
Lake Braddock and Robinson met in a non-district week five game on Oct. 1 with the visiting Rams defeating the Bruins, 10-7. In this Friday’s playoff meeting between the area rivals, Poythress said his defense will have to slow down outstanding Robinson running back Jared Velasquez, who rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries in the regular season meeting.
“Robinson has the best two way player that I have seen in the region in Jared Valasquez,” said Poythress.
The coach is looking forward to what should be a great high school football game.
“The Rams bring a toughness in their style of play that we do not often see. If we cannot match their intensity and street fighting mentality we will not win. In the first game, even the Robinson fans were crazed. I am hoping the Bruin nation steps up as a 12th man. It should be an exciting game.”
<b>LANGLEY</b>, with the loss to the Bruins, saw its season end at 6-5. The Saxons, who lost to Lake Braddock, 49-10, way back in the season’s opening week, began the season 0-2 before winning five consecutive games – a win streak that started with a week three, 29-28 overtime win over Liberty District foe Madison.
A week eight loss to Liberty District champion Stone Bridge, 50-10, followed by another district loss to South Lakes, 42-36, had the Saxons at 5-4 going into their final regular season game against cross-town and district rival McLean. The Saxons overwhelmed a strong Highlanders’ team, 56-12, to clinch a winning season and enter the postseason on a high note.
The playoff encounter between the Saxons and Bruins was billed as a matchup between two great high school quarterbacks – Anderson and Nebrich. Both had fine games but it was Nebrich and his Bruins’ teammates who were able to find the end zone with more consistency.