Virginia AAA Division 5 semifinal

Stone Bridge beats Massaponax, 23-20, in Virginia high school football semifinal

B.J. Koubaroulis takes you behind the scenes at Stone Bridge, where the Bulldogs shed their rebuilding label to advance to the state championship.
By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 7, 2009

Stone Bridge depends on junior defensive back Spenser Rositano to be at the right place at the right time. So right about now, Rositano must be at a laundromat, because by the end of the No. 8 Bulldogs' 23-20 muddy home win over Massaponax Sunday in a Virginia AAA Division 5 semifinal, all you could make out on Rositano's jersey was his name on the back.

In squishy conditions that had Massaponax requesting a change of venue until shortly before kickoff, the Bulldogs had four fumble recoveries -- three courtesy of Rositano -- and did not cough up the ball themselves in advancing to the state final for the second time in three years.

"We put [Rositano] wherever we can to make a play," Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson said. "He's probably our top guy as far as understanding the game. He's the guy you can always count on, every single time, to be in the right place."

Stone Bridge (13-1) simplified its single-wing offense, reducing the number of spin moves and extra handoffs, and took advantage of the Panthers' faulty hands and hesitant legs. Even on the winning score, a Massaponax defensive player slipped at midfield, allowing a 76-yard completion from junior Brian Rody to senior Taylor Lambke midway through the third quarter.

The melted snow was an overriding factor in how the game transpired. Sunday's Division 6 state semifinal between Battlefield and Lake Braddock was moved to a turf field.

"The thing is, it's our game, we're playing on our field," Thompson said. "This isn't great for us. It's probably a little worse for them. It was terrible conditions, I'll admit that."

"In my coaching career, 26 years, I haven't played in conditions this bad," said Massaponax Coach Eric Ludden, whose team rushed for 290 yards. "We're a very small team, but we're fast. I think that that definitely slowed us down. But they played under the same conditions and they didn't fumble, so they deserve a lot of credit."

Rositano was able to stay upright often enough to secure the three loose balls.

"I was just reacting to where the ball was, and it happened to be every time I got up there, the ball would come loose so I just jumped on it," said Rositano, who also made a leaping catch near the goal line to set up a touchdown. "I think this field is in our favor, because the faster the track, the better they're probably going to be. So it was actually in our favor a lot because it really slowed them down. They couldn't make their normal cuts on us."

The Panthers (10-3), in the state semifinals for the third time in seven years, might have known they were in for a tough day when their return man muffed the first kickoff and could not find the plopped ball in the mud behind him.

But even with the five turnovers and other untimely slips, the Panthers were in the game until they were stopped on fourth down near midfield with 5 minutes 31 seconds remaining. Massaponax got the ball back at its 13-yard line with 1:33 left, but Stone Bridge junior Dexter Rogers soon intercepted a pass to start the celebration.

Panthers quarterback Thomas Robinson, a senior, had little footing trouble early, weaving his way for an 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He finished with 143 yards on 16 carries.

Senior Jauan Latney totaled 104 yards on 20 carries and had a 45-yard punt return for a score that gave Massaponax a short-lived, 20-15 lead in the third quarter. The Panthers had more than twice as many first downs (15) as Stone Bridge.

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