Andrew Stroka is another year older with a few starts under his belt.
Those small details about the junior quarterback at Walkersville were not to be overlooked in the Lions’ 21-16, come-from-behind win at Tuscarora on Friday night.
Last season, this was exactly the type of game Walkersville didn’t win. When push came to shove, the Lions’ inexperience rose to the surface, and they weren’t able to find a way to pull out close games.
So, here they were in Friday’s season opener. It was third-and-11 from their own 32-yard line, and they trailed by five with under nine minutes to play.
Stroka, who started three games at quarterback near the end of last season against county blue bloods Oakdale, Linganore and Middletown due to injury, dropped back and fired a dart over the middle for senior receiver Jake Hess.
Just as a defender was about to impede him, Hess grabbed the pass and broke away from everyone for the game-winning 68-yard touchdown pass with 8 minutes, 7 seconds to play.
“The whole game, they saw us running corner [routes]. I was running corner. We were running come-backs on the outside in both of our scrimmages,” Hess said.
“So, when I lined up in twins [formation], I just kept hearing the [Tuscarora] coaches and safety yell ‘Corner! Corner! Corner!’ So, I knew in the second half, if I faked that corner, that post was open. I was like, ‘Coach, run it to me.’”
Stroka — who had been up and down for most of the game, competing 7 of 11 passes for 144 yards and an interception — put his throw right on the money.
“Andrew stepped up a lot this year,” Hess said. “Last year, he was iffy. But, you know, he’s got confidence this year. The whole team has rallied around him. We trust him every single play.”
Walkersville scored its two earlier touchdowns in the second quarter to overcome an early 3-0 deficit.
Josue Longa, who played on Quince Orchard’s junior varsity team last season, scored on a 1-yard run, and fellow junior Josiah Jones shook off tacklers on a 39-yard scoring burst down his team’s sideline.
The Lions took control of the line of scrimmage in the second quarter and repeatedly gashed the Titans’ defense with runs right up the middle.
As a team, the Lions generated 256 rushing yards on 37 carries with five different backs doing the work. It’s the style they prefer to play.
Senior fullback Nick Edwards led the way with 127 yards on 12 carries. Jones added 67 on nine carries. Longa finished with 36 yards on 10 carries, and Hess had 42 yards on four carries, in addition to catching four passes for 99 yards.
“We kind of figured out how they were lining up, and we went at them,” Walkersville coach Joe Polce said.
Tuscarora struck for two touchdowns in a span of 4:03 to take a 16-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Titans’ biggest playmaker, Jordan Addison, ran under a pass over the middle from quarterback Naseem Pacheco and maintained his balance for a 74-yard touchdown.
Addison, a University of Pittsburgh recruit, then took a handoff on 4th-and-24 from the Walkersville 32-yard line with just about 10 minutes to play and was seemingly swallowed up by a swarm of tacklers in the middle of the field, well short of the first down.
But Addison managed to break free from the pile and darted into the end zone for a long touchdown run that put Tuscarora back in front, 16-14.
“Addison is a baller,” Hess said. “Props to him. Great player. Holy moly!”
But, by the end of the game, Walkersville’s added experience proved to be a valuable asset. The Lions return seven starters on offense, and six on defense.
“We are a year older. Ten sophomores become a bunch of juniors. We have a great senior class,” Polce said. “We didn’t crack under pressure. We battled back.”