There were tears of joy mixed in with falling snow flakes, along with lots of heart-felt hugs and triumphant cheers during the moments following Broad Run High's 13-0 victory over Amherst County in last Saturday evening's Virginia State AA championship football game in Lynchburg.
The Division 4 title game, played on the synthetic turf field at Liberty University's Arthur L. Williams Stadium, took place in cold, snowy conditions. The snowflakes began falling about 75 minutes prior to the 4:45 p.m. kickoff and continued on throughout the contest. Following the game's final ticks of the clock, which officially made the Spartans of Ashburn football state champions for the first time ever, the glorious on-field, postgame celebration made for the ultimate Broad Run football winter wonderland scene.
"It's unbelievable," said Broad Run senior tight end/defensive lineman Kevin Sandersen, of the championship game win and the Spartans' perfect 14-0 record. "Not losing and playing with this group of guys since my freshmen year is unbelievable."
The hearty Broad Run fans that had made the three-hour-plus trip to the central Virginia site, cheered thunderously throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Leading the Spartans' faithful were the "Maroon Crew," the large group of Broad Run students who have had the football teams' back all season long during the unbeaten campaign that will long be remembered in the annals of Broad Run athletics.
Broad Run rooters had plenty to cheer throughout the game as the Spartans simply man-handled the two-time defending state champion Lancers who, along with their huge group of fans who were bundled together in the stadium's far side bleachers, appeared stunned at the way the Region III champions were going down.
While Amherst ruled the Virginia Division 4 football world as a result of state titles in both 2006 and 2007, Saturday was Broad Run's time to experience football euphoria as it put the finishing, beautiful touches on a season in which it earned Dulles District, Region II and state crowns.
When, during the postgame festivities, Broad Run head coach Mike Burnett was asked to come forward to accept the state championship team trophy, he smiled broadly and lifted the prized possession high into the air as his players and assistant coaches surrounded him.
"It felt surreal," said Burnett, of those precious moments following the game.
THE GAME was scoreless in the second quarter when Broad Run's offense put together perhaps its best drive of the season, marching 80 yards over 19 plays and scoring the game's first points when senior quarterback Chris Jessop, on a second-down play from the Amherst 10-yard line, threw a beautifully-timed fade pass to junior wide receiver Adrian Flemming (five catches, 60 yards) in the left corner of the end zone with just 13 seconds left in the first half. Following Graham Allen's extra point kick, Broad Run had 7-0 lead and the momentum going into the half.
On the impressive touchdown march, the Spartans, on three occasions, converted fourth-down plays for first downs. The third of those conversions came when Jessop, on a fourth-and-7 from the Amherst 23, rolled our right and connected with Fleming for 13 yards down to the 10.
Earlier in the drive, Jessop (nine of 14, 121 yards, one TD) made a spectacular play when, under a heavy rush on a third-and-11 play from the Spartans' own 19, he somehow got a short, shuffle pass off to his left to running back Breon Earl, who gained 16 yards for a first down.
The Spartans' offense received a huge boost from its passing game [see related story at connectionnewspapers.com] as Jessop, despite the tough weather conditions, had an outstanding game.
Broad Run scored a second touchdown late in the fourth quarter to clinch the victory. The score came when Earl (50 yards on 18 carries), on a fourth-and-goal from the Amherst three, took a pitchout right and, despite being hit hard near the line of scrimmage, somehow fought his way into the end zone for the game-clinching score with 56 seconds left to play.
"I was determined to get in," Earl said of reaching the end zone. "A state championship was on the line. I was going to get in."
The point-after kick was blocked, but it really didn't matter. Broad Run was moments away from winning the game and the state title.
SATURDAY'S WIN was spear-headed by Broad Run's defense, which totally shutdown a high-powered offense that had scored 40 or more points six times during the regular season. From the start of the game, the Lancers' offense looked rattled and surprised at Broad Run's defensive tenacity. Amherst County had to rely exclusively on its running game because of its inability to put together any semblance of a passing game in the adverse elements.
Lancer junior quarterback Anthony Rose struggled to handle the slippery football. Three times he fumbled the ball, but the Lancers recovered on each occasion. Rose completed no passes in three attempts. The Lancers had marginal success running, led by Rose's 66 yards on 13 carries. But without an aerial threat, Broad Run was focusing on the run, Amherst totaled just 45 second-half yards.
The Spartans' "D" stepped up big time in the second quarter of a scoreless game when, following a Broad Run turnover, Amherst took possession at the Spartans' 29-yard line. But the Lancers, hurt by two penalties, lost 18 yards on the possession before being forced to punt. Thereafter, Amherst never even came close to threatening to score again the rest of the game.
"We just had a great game plan," said Broad Run senior linebacker Mikey Cotton, of the Spartansâ€™ defense. "Our coaches did an excellent job."
Coach Burnett was thrilled with the championship game shutout.
"This is one of the most special defenses I've ever seen because they play as a team," said Burnett. "They are really very disciplined and made so many big plays."
ON THE GAME'S first possession, Broad Run moved the ball from its own 36 to the Amherst 19 before the gameâ€™s most bizarre play occurred when Broad Run running back TJ Peeler (65 yards on 17 carries) broke across the line of scrimmage and into open space. Believing he had crossed the goal line, Peeler suddenly stopped running before placing the ball down on the turf. An Amherst player pounced on the ball and Broad Run's early scoring threat had ended.
With the snow making it difficult to know where he was on the field, Peeler had mistakenly thought he had crossed the goal line [see related story at connectionnewspapers.com]. It was an unfortunate mishap, which Broad Run and Peeler overcame.