Two years ago, Mickey Thompson’s Stone Bridge High football team dominated opponents on way to capturing the program’s first-ever state AAA title. Last year, the Bulldogs were nearly as dominant, with a roster made up of numerous college scholarship-bound players who led the Ashburn team to another Northern Region title and a trip to states.
This year’s squad, with a different look as a result of key graduation losses, was not supposed to reach the same heights.
Nevertheless, Stone Bridge has proven to be, once again, the region’s best Div. 5 team. That became official last Friday afternoon when the Bulldogs overwhelmed Springfield’s Robert E. Lee High, 21-10, in the Div. 5 title game played at Bulldog Stadium in Ashburn.
“No one expected us to go this far,” said Stone Bridge senior skill position standout Kyle Gouveia. “But we practiced hard [all season] and stayed with our game plan.”
The region championship game victory was the third straight for the Bulldogs and advanced them to the state AAA playoffs where they will host Massaponax High (Fredericksburg) of the Northwest Region in a semifinals contest this Saturday afternoon at 1:30.
Since a week seven Liberty District road loss at Madison, 28-14, Stone Bridge (12-1) has reeled off six consecutive wins, including a convincing 27-8 home triumph over Madison at the region semifinals. Of those six wins, the only game that was close was a 17-14 regular season win over district foe Langley on Oct. 23. Since then, Stone Bridge’s smallest margin of victory was Saturday’s game against the Lancers.
Indeed, Stone Bridge has rounded into top form at the most important time of the season. The Bulldogs certainly controlled the action in the win over Lee, outgaining the Patriot District team, 268 to 201, and leading from the first quarter onward. Stone Bridge ran 70 offensive plays to Lee’s 51. In the second half, the Bulldogs dominated in time of possession (16 minutes to the Lancers’ eight). Stone Bridge’s defensive unit was pleased with the offensive effort.
“We basically had our offense out there the whole game,” said Stone Bridge junior cornerback Dexter Rogers.
<b>THE BULLDOGS</b> were able to move the first down chains so effectively as a result of both the stirring play up front from its offensive line as well as the hard, straight ahead running of star running back Marcus Harris, Stone Bridge’s all-time leading career rusher who finished with 139 yards on 33 carries against the Lancers. Harris, a senior, scored all three of his team’s touchdowns in the win, two on running plays (14 and two yards out) and one on a 29-yard catch from quarterback Brian Rody.
“That’s what we try to do – keep possession on offense,” said Gouveia. “On a few plays [over the game] they stopped us, but we just kept pushing.”
Meanwhile, Stone Bridge’s defense was able, for the most part, to contain standout Lee running back Idreis Augustus (80 yards on 17 carries). The senior ball carrier’s biggest play came midway through the second quarter when he took a pitchout left from signal caller Greg Lopez and outraced the Stone Bridge defense down the left sideline for a 26-yard scoring play that got the Lancers within 14-10. That was the score at halftime.
But Stone Bridge made a huge statement when it took the second half kickoff and held on to the football for 19 plays and close to 10 minutes. Although the possession ended with a rare missed field goal by left-footed kicker Abdul Shaban (wide right on a 42-yard attempt), the long, non-scoring march ate up a ton of the second half clock.
On its next possession, which began in the final minute of the third quarter, the Bulldogs put together the lone scoring drive of the second half, moving the ball 51 yards over 14 plays and getting the touchdown on Harris’ two-yard run up the middle with 7 minutes, 13 seconds left to play in the game. Shaban’s third extra point kick of the game made the score 21-10 Bulldogs.
Lee never seriously threatened to score again and its final hopes all but faded when a Lopez pass, on a fourth-and-10 play from the Lancers’ own 37 yard line, was intercepted by senior linebacker Connor Calderwood with three minutes left. The pass, thrown to the right, was intended for Augustus.
“He’s their go-to guy, their playmaker,” said Calderwood. “I read the quarterback the whole way. He threw it and I stepped right in front of [Augustus].”
<b>LEE, WHICH</b> utilizes an option attack out of the shotgun, mishandled the ball throughout the game. Poor snaps from center and misplays on pitched balls out of the option resulted in numerous fumbles, one of which was loss. On its first possession of the game, the Lancers lost 23 yards as a result of a high snap on a third down play from their own 26 yard line. Lee had to punt the ball from its own three. Stone Bridge, as a result, began its first possession of the afternoon from the Lee 40 yard line. From there, the Bulldogs needed just six plays to score, the touchdown coming on a 14-yard run by Harris on a fourth-and-one play.
Lee answered with a scoring march that resulted in a field goal to putt the Lancers within 7-3.
But Stone Bridge, on its second possession of the game, marched 70 yards over 13 plays for another touchdown early in the second quarter. The score came on a fourth-and-11 play from the Lancers’ 29. Rody dropped back to pass and fired a hard pass which Harris, with outreached arms, caught at the 10 before running into the end zone. Shaban’s point after kick made it 14-3.
Although Lee would answer with a touchdown drive on its ensuing possession, the Lancers would not score again thereafter over the remaining 30-plus minutes of the game.
Stone Bridge, once again, was the region champion when the final whistle blew.
“I’m glad we could keep the Stone Bridge tradition alive,” said Calderwood, who along with his late game interception also recovered a fumble in the championship game win. “We had a great team effort. The offense controlled the ball great and everyone did their job.”
This year’s Stone Bridge team, young overall and less experienced than recent Bulldog squads, has come a long way.
“This year we’ve had a bunch of young guys who have stepped up and kept the winning tradition going,” said Rogers.