The game plan wasn’t working, but Potomac wasn’t out of it.
Down six points at the half, and 11 early in the third quarter in last Saturday’s Class 6 boys basketball state championship game, the Panthers stormed back to tie it against host Centreville.
Alas, Potomac turned cold down the stretch, eventually succumbing 63-49. Centreville (10-2) won its second consecutive title after being named co-champion in 2020 with South County.
Potomac, which won Class 5 titles in 2014 and 2016, was bidding to become the first Class 6 champion from Prince William County.
“Our kids showed resilience all year long. These guys did not get that far to quit in the middle of the game. I’m proud of everything,” said coach Keith Honore.
The Panthers (12-1) faced a two-week COVID quarantine in December. “I was pessimistic about us finishing the season,” said Honore. "I was waiting on a phone call” that could have ended the season. “Fortunately we were able to make up enough games” to win the Cardinal District.
Played in a sparsely crowded gym at Centreville High, it was an unusual state final. Moved from VCU’s Siegel Center in Richmond due to the pandemic, the game still featured a national anthem, player introductions and miscellaneous supporters making noise and placing cutouts in the bleachers. Players wore masks, with many slipping down their faces early in the first quarter.
While Potomac’s strength is speed, transition and dangerous shooting, Centreville countered with a traditional attack built around 6-foot-7 big men Avery Ford and Ryan Newell and the leadership and shooting of guard Chris Kuzemka.
The first quarter ended 7-7 as the pace seemed to favor Centreville, which slowed Potomac down and played strong help-side defense. The Wildcats spurted to a 23-14 second quarter lead before Tyrell Harris and Kejahn Rainey scored the Panthers’ next nine points to close Centreville’s halftime lead to 25-19.
Centreville came out strong in the third, building its lead to 34-23, but the Panthers seized momentum, threatening to dramatically change the outcome. Harris, Potomac’s tallest player at 6-7, fueled an 8-2 scoring run with a driving hoop and offensive tip that cut the deficit to 36-31.
A technical foul on the Potomac bench led to Kuzemka’s two free throws, restoring Centreville’s lead to 38-31, but the motivated Panthers kept charging. Seven straight points tied the game as Rainey made two free throws, Anthony Jackson drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing and Lorin Hall roared in for a layup to make it 38-38 with 32 seconds left in the third.
Trailing 42-40 in the fourth, Rainey missed an open 3-pointer from the left corner for the lead, but recovered the loose ball to convert an acrobatic flying layup to make it 42-42 with 6:19 left.
After Harris’ free throw knotted it at 43-43 with 5:55 left, Centreville was the epitome of execution down the stretch, beating Potomac pressure to close on a 20-6 run over the final 5:03 to win by 14.
“We won the turnover battle, but we did not win the rebound battle,” said Honore. “They beat us up pretty good. We did not get the second chance points we’re accustomed to getting. And we did not make shots we typically make. They were the better team.”
Harris led Potomac with 17, followed by Honore with 15 and Rainey 10.
Kuzemka scored 21 for Centreville, with Ford adding 17 and Paul McClain 10.
Potomac defeated Landstown 79-73 in the semifinals, overcoming a 43-point performance by rival guard Donald Hand Jr.