The Washington Post Sunday

Bulldogs can’t vanquish an old nemesis, fall one win short of the state title



hampton, va. — Stone Bridge football Coach Mickey Thompson stood at the 30-yard line with his hands in his pockets Saturday, watching players from another talented team of his walk one by one to midfield and receive a runner-up medal.

For the third time in the past four seasons, the Bulldogs had traveled south from the Northern Virginia territory they so often dominate to meet the power and speed of Henrico County’s Highland Springs in the Virginia Class 5 championsh­ip game. And for the third time in the past four years, the Bulldogs were overpowere­d by the Springers as they fell, 37-26.

“I just don’t know what to say after games like this,” Thompson said. “These guys work for three or four years . . . . They worked their ass off to get here, and they played like champions today. So there’s nothing I can say right now.”

Stone Bridge, which opened in 2000, fell to 1-6 in state championsh­ip games. The program’s lone title came in 2007.

On Saturday afternoon at Hampton University, a swift and severe turn of events in the second quarter spelled doom for the Bulldogs (12-3).

With the score tied and just less than seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Bulldogs stuffed the Springers on fourth down at the goal line. They sprinted off the field in celebratio­n, sensing a chance to grab momentum.

But on first and 10 from the 1, quarterbac­k Mason Tatum tried to throw the ball away and was called for intentiona­l grounding. He had released the pass from the end zone, so Highland Springs was awarded a safety. One play after their big stop, the Bulldogs trailed 9-7.

From there, the situation started to crumble for Stone Bridge. After the safety, the Springers scored a few plays later to make it 16-7. They made a quick stop and then ran in another score to push their lead to 23-7 with 1:30 left before halftime. All of a sudden, just five minutes after their goalline stand, the game was slipping away from the Bulldogs.

“That little stretch, that was the game right there,” Thompson said. “If you take the second quarter out, for three quarters it was an even football game. But that’s where it got away from us.”

The Springers sensed an opportunit­y after the safety and jumped on it, countering the Bulldogs’ physicalit­y with unstoppabl­e speed. Stone Bridge’s running game, which had helped it plow through just about every opponent in Northern Virginia, was held in check by the Springers’ defense. The Bulldogs ran off the field at halftime with the dissatisfi­ed and somewhat confused look of a team that was in the hole and without answers.

The Stone Bridge offense played with passion in the second half, and Tatum finished with 257 passing yards and a touchdown. The Bulldogs twice cut their deficit to 10 points, but the Springers were too much to handle, responding with a touchdown on the following possession both times.

 ?? JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Stone Bridge lost to Highland Springs in the state championsh­ip game for the third time in four years.
JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST Stone Bridge lost to Highland Springs in the state championsh­ip game for the third time in four years.

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