The sense of frustration felt by the Park View High School football team immediately after Saturday's 21-20 loss to Salem in the Virginia AA Division 4 championship game had lessened somewhat by Monday evening, but it hadn't completely faded.
"It really has not gone away as quickly as usual," Coach Mickey Thompson said. "It's so different than last year, when we knew we were up against a better team [West Potomac, in a 42-8 loss in the AAA Division 5 Northern Region final]. This year, we feel like we lost an opportunity.
"A week or two down the road, we'll be able to look back and see that this was a great run. But it's pretty bitter right now."
Indeed, the Patriots have completed a terrific two-year run; it just didn't end the way they had hoped and figured it would--with a state championship.
Park View finished the 1999 season with a 13-1 record, a AA Northwestern District championship and the second undefeated regular season in school history (the other came in 1988, when Park View won its only state title). The Patriots dominated their competition, beating teams by an average margin of 34.4 points.
"This hurts," junior quarterback Nick Smith said Saturday. "Our goal at the beginning of the year was to be state champs and to go 14-0."
The Patriots advanced further than they did last year, when they posted a 10-2 record, won the AAA Liberty District title and lost in the regional finals to West Potomac. The success of last year's team helped erase the sting of a 4-6 record in 1997.
"Last year's team got us back," Thompson said. "This year's team was more confident. This team had been there, and they expected more."
Park View dominated the championship game at James Madison University's Bridgeforth Stadium, but mistakes and missed opportunities proved costly in the end. One sequence particularly stood out.
With 7 minutes 50 seconds left in the third quarter, Smith scored on a one-yard run to give Park View a 20-14 lead (junior Brandon Develli's extra point was low and wide). The Patriots defense came up big on Salem's ensuing offensive possession; on fourth and one, juniors Joey Weisen and Jeff McDonald stuffed Salem's E.J. Thomas for no gain.
The Patriots got the ball back on Salem's 40-yard line. Two runs by Smith put Park View in a third-and-two situation, but back-to-back penalties (one for illegal procedure and one for an ineligible receiver downfield, which wiped out a first down catch by Larry Eppard) pushed the Patriots back. Smith was eventually stopped one yard short of a first down on a fourth-down run.
"If we score there, it's a much different story," senior blocking back Joe Larson said.
Instead, Park View needed one final drive to win the game. With 2:06 left, the Patriots got the ball back on their 31, trailing, 21-20. Smith drove Park View to the Salem 24-yard line--two passes to junior Dustin Dudinski and a 23-yard pass to Larson were the drive's key plays--but another illegal procedure penalty pushed the Patriots back to the 29.
With 9.7 seconds left, Develli, a first-year place kicker, attempted his third, and longest, field goal of the season--a 45-yarder to win the game. It was barely wide left on JMU's uprights, which are two feet narrower than high school uprights.
"The way I see it, it never should have come down to a field goal," Larson said. "It should've been over before that. We hurt ourselves. Salem is a hard-working team, and they kept pounding on us the whole game. But we hurt ourselves with penalties and mistakes."
Thus the frustration, which seemed to overwhelm the team Saturday. And while the frustration remains, it has not obscured the fact that this was a special team and a very special season for the Sterling school.
"We've had a lot of very special teams here, but I'll never forget this one," said Thompson, the Patriots' coach for the past 10 years. "I can't imagine I'll ever have another team like this one--a team that won on the field, but one that you also liked hanging out with and being around."
"We had one common goal this season, and that was to get here [to the state final] and win," said senior Andrew Hoffman, who learned Friday he could not play because of mononucleosis. "Even though we did lose, we did make it this far as a team. It's a letdown to lose, but this is something that we built on for two years. The thing that will stick with me is how much fun it was working with the greatest bunch of guys I've ever known."
PATRIOTS' 13-1 RUN
Park View 48, Sherando 0
Senior Nelson Stickley rushes for 144 yards and two touchdowns, and also intercepts a pass, in the Patriots' season-opening win before 1,200 spectators in Sterling. Park View amasses 536 yards.
Park View 56, Courtland 6
Junior Nick Smith throws for 163 yards and two touchdowns, runs for 88 yards and one touchdown and returns an interception 60 yards for another touchdown. Junior defensive back Tim Murphy makes two interceptions and recovers one fumble.
Park View 25, Osbourn 3
The Patriots have their smallest halftime lead, 7-3, but pull away in the second half on two touchdown runs by Smith and a 21-yard field goal by junior Brandon Develli.
Park View 41, Liberty 0
Junior linebacker Kyle Mazaris makes 12 first-hit tackles and recovers one fumble to lead the Patriots defense, which does not give up a touchdown for the fourth consecutive game.
Park View 42, Handley 17
The Patriots trail for the first time this season when Handley scores on a touchdown reception with 8 minutes 54 seconds left in the first quarter. Park View answers by scoring touchdowns on its next four offensive possessions. Junior Charles Ramey's 46-yard touchdown catch with 16 seconds left in the first half is one of the key plays in the matchup of undefeated teams.
Park View 42, Warren County 6
Junior wingback Dustin Dudinski catches a 25-yard touchdown pass from Smith, runs for a 22-yard touchdown and also throws a 54-yard touchdown pass to Smith, as the Patriots debut their red jerseys in the homecoming victory.
Park View 41, Potomac Falls 0
On the first play from scrimmage, Smith runs 80 yards for a touchdown. He finishes the game with 123 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns and 131 passing yards and three touchdown passes.
Park View 35, Loudoun Valley 0
Smith's streak of 72 passes without an interception ends, but he finishes with two touchdown passes (to Ramey and senior blocking back Joe Larson). The Patriots defense records its second consecutive shutout and fourth of the season.
Park View 35, Loudoun County 7
The Patriots defense holds the Raiders to just 86 rushing yards--119 yards below their season average--to clinch at least a share of the Northwestern District title. Junior linebacker Joey Weisen makes 11 first hits and has nine assists, plus one forced fumble.
Park View 49, Broad Run 7
The Patriots wrap up their first undefeated season since 1988 and their second consecutive district championship (in 1998, Park View won the AAA Liberty District title) with the victory. Stickley rushes for a season-high 248 yards and scores three touchdowns.
AA Division 4 Region II Semifinals
Park View 37, Loudoun County 21
The Patriots build a 37-0 lead with 9:55 left in the game before the Raiders score three late touchdowns. Over the game's first three quarters, Park View's defense held Loudoun County to just 45 yards.
AA Division 4 Region II Finals
Park View 56, Charlottesville 22
Park View leads 42-0 at halftime en route to tying its season high of 56 points. Senior tight end Larry Eppard catches only two passes, but both go for touchdowns.
AA Division 4 Semifinals
Park View 48, Lafayette 19
Smith does a little bit of everything in Williamsburg: He throws for a school-record 275 yards and one touchdown, rushes for a team-high 105 yards and three touchdowns, makes eight first-hit tackles and blocks an extra point attempt.
AA Division 4 Finals
Salem 21, Park View 20
Heartbreak in Harrisonburg: The Patriots top the Spartans in nearly every category, from total offense (381 yards to 250) to first downs (16 to 7) but are unable to deliver the knockout punch. Develli's 45-yard field goal attempt with 9.7 seconds left in the game is barely wide left, and Salem wins its third Division 4 title in four years in front of 10,200 spectators.
Most yards passing in a game: Nick Smith, 275 yards, vs. Lafayette. Previous record: Nick Smith, 1998, 228 yards.
Most yards passing in a season: Nick Smith, 1,138 (10 games); 1,704* (14 games). Previous record: Chris Dawson, 1989, 1,135 (10 games); 1,389 (12 games).
Most yards passing in a career: Nick Smith, 1997-99, 3,434*. Previous record: Chris Dawson, 1987-89, 2,997.
Most touchdown passes in a season: Nick Smith, 23. Previous record: Nick Smith, 1998, 13.
Most touchdown passes in a career: Nick Smith, 1997-99, 44. Previous record: Chris Dawson, 1987-89, 26.
Most touchdown catches in a season: Dustin Dudinski, 10. Previous record: Robert Kushner, 1983, Chris Schwalm, 1996, 7.
Most extra points in a season: Brandon Develli, 55 (10 games), 76 (14 games). Previous record: Chris Dawson, 1988, 30 (10 games), 46 (14 games).
Most points scored in a 10-game season: 414. Previous record: 1998, 362.
Fewest points allowed in a 10-game season: 46. Previous record: 1981, 66.
Most extra points in a season: Brandon Develli, 76. Previous record: Shayne Graham, Pulaski County, 1993, 61.
*-- based on unofficial figures from Saturday's game
CAPTION: After Patriots miss game-winning field goal attempt, Park View's Tim Murphy (7) and Kyle Mazaris react as Salem celebrates. "It's pretty bitter right now," said Coach Mickey Thompson, seen accepting runner-up trophy Saturday. Patriots posted second undefeated regular season in school history.
CAPTION: Patriots' Dustin Dudinski (1) rumbles ahead Saturday during Patriots' 21-20 loss in state title game.
CAPTION: Nelson Stickley (44) breaks through line of scrimmage during Patriots' 35-0 victory over Loudoun Valley Oct. 22.
CAPTION: Raiders' Chris Hughs is stopped by Joey Weisen (40), Tim Murphy, center, Jeff McDonald during Park View's 37-21 AA Division 4 Region II semifinal win.
CAPTION: Quarterback Nick Smith set a record in five different categories, including breaking two he had previously set.