Hayfield, like so many teams that have lost to Northern Region Div. 5 high school football power Stone Bridge over the years, experienced firsthand last Saturday afternoon that anything less than a close to perfect game against the Bulldogs is not enough to beat them.
The Hawks hardly embarrassed themselves and, in fact, did several things quite well in their Div. 5 region title game at Stone Bridge last week. But in the end it was not nearly enough as the unbeaten and defending region champion Bulldogs from Ashburn handily defeated a talented Hayfield squad by a 35-7 score.
“They’re a formidable group,” said Hayfield head coach Roy Hill, of Stone Bridge. “They just don’t beat themselves, that’s the biggest thing.”
Hayfield, with the loss, saw its season end with an 8-5 overall record. The Hawks experienced an outstanding season this fall, overcoming an early season three-game losing streak that put them at 2-3 halfway through the regular season. The team won four of its final five games to finish the regular season at 6-4 going into the eight-team Div. 5 playoffs.
There, the Hawks remained one of the hotter teams in the region as they dominated host McLean, 34-13, in a quarterfinals round playoff encounter. It was a huge victory for Hayfield, which eliminated a Highlanders’ squad that had been 8-0 at one point before finally falling in a week nine affair against Liberty District opponent Stone Bridge. McLean, under head coach Jim Patrick, was one of the biggest success stories of the region this fall but its storybook autumn came to a grinding halt with the postseason setback to the Hawks.
Following the win over McLean, Hayfield continued to roll as it defeated National District foe and home team Washington-Lee, 28-7, in a semifinals game played on Nov. 19. The victory avenged a 23-7 regular season loss to the Generals way back in week three and was a testimony to how much better the Hawks had become over the course of the season.
The win over W-L put Hayfield into the region finals against a Stone Bridge team that had overwhelmed its opponents all season long with lopsided victories – the lone exception being a week one 7-3 win over Westfield.
<b>HAYFIELD</b>, in the region finals game, played the Bulldogs tough for close to three quarters, despite an opening kickoff nightmare to start the game in which Kyle Gouveia, son of former Washington Redskins linebacker Kurt Gouveia, returned the ball 88 yards for a touchdown to put the guests in an immediate 7-0 hole. It was the kind of mistake Hayfield could ill afford against a Stone Bridge team that had scored 40 or more points eight times during the season.
“Our special teams hurt us,” said Hill. “We didn’t execute on coverage.”
A few minutes after the kickoff return for a touchdown to begin the game, Stone Bridge, upon getting the ball again, marched 52 yards in seven plays for a touchdown that came when Bulldog senior quarterback Brian Rody, on a rollout right play, tossed a scoring pass to senior receiver Spencer Rositano, who made an outstanding, reaching catch in the back of the end zone on a ball that appeared to be thrown too high. Just like that, less than five minutes into the game, Stone Bridge was ahead 14-0.
Hayfield quieted the large, partisan Stone Bridge crowd with its best offensive possession of the game, as the Hawks drove the ball 80 yards over 11 plays and scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak by senior quarterback Jason Stewart. Following the point-after kick by Paul Schwartz, Hayfield was back in the game, trailing 14-7, with just over two minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
The key play of the Hayfield scoring drive came on a third-and-10 play at the Stone Bridge 36 yard line when Stewart, rolling left, connected on a 32-yard pass play to junior tightend Justin Dill to put the ball at the four yard line, setting up the touchdown two plays later.
Hayfield, on the scoring march, had big runs of 20, 10 and 12 yards by receiver Hayden Knudson (on a reverse) and running backs Justin Marshall (16 carries, 50 yards) and Steve Lynch, respectively.
Hayfield’s momentum following the score was short-lived, however, as Stone Bridge, on its next possession, drove 64 yards over 15 plays and scored on a one-yard run by star running back Marcus Harris. On the scoring drive, the Bulldogs converted two fourth down plays, including a fourth-and-three at its own 43.
The Bulldogs were driving again on their next possession, from their own 16 to the Hayfield 36 before Hawks’ junior linebacker Craig Luskey ended the threat with a fumble recovery in the Stone Bridge backfield in the final minute of the half.
Hayfield, down 21-7, had its best chance to stay in the game when it took the second half kickoff and moved the ball from its 20 yard line to the Stone Bridge 12 in a long drive.
But the Hawks lost nine yards over the next two plays before being unable to convert on a fourth down play.
“We had a long drive [in the third quarter] but didn’t score,” said Hill. “It’s all about scoring.”
Stone Bridge then effectively put the game away when it drove 79 yards in just six plays, the touchdown coming on a 12-yard run by Adrian Thomas.
At that point, with less than two minutes in the third quarter remaining, Stone Bridge was in total control at 28-7. The Bulldogs would score a final touchdown early in the final quarter.
<b>STEWART</b>, the Hayfield QB, completed 7-of-13 passes for 106 yards for the game. He was sacked three times but, for the most part, had time to throw. Sean Townsend (3 catches, 57 yards) was his primary target.
“I think it was the best defense we faced all year,” said Stewart. “But in the first half I really thought we were going to win. We were moving the ball.”
Hayfield received a bad break in the first quarter when key playmaker Knudson, who caught nine touchdowns this season at receiver while intercepting seven balls as a member of the Hayfield defensive secondary, left the game with a leg injury.
The Stone Bridge offense, out of its single wing package in which the ball can be snapped out of the shotgun to either the quarterback or a running back, rushed for close to 250 yards, led by Harris (22 carries, 127 yards). Rody, the QB, completed seven-of-12 passes for 108 yards.
“They took care of the ball most of the game,” said Hayfield’s Steve Lynch, a key two-way player for the Hawks this season at running back and linebacker. “They were the better team today. They’re a well-disciplined team and they have good coaches. They run that offense well.”
The loss hardly takes away from what was a banner season for the Hawks in getting to the region championship game.
“We lost three games in a row [early in the season] and a lot of people were doubting us,” said Lynch. “But we kept working hard.”
Stewart credited his coach with guiding the Hawks.
“Coach Hill is like a father to all of us,” said the QB. “I’ll always love him. He led us in the right direction.”
Hill said his team overcame early season injuries and ultimately realized its expectations.
“We had a lot of injuries early on and lost quite a few kids,” said Hill. “It took a while for us to get going. But our stated goal at the beginning of the season was to still be practicing at Thanksgiving and we did that.”