This was not supposed to be the season Stone Bridge broke through and made its first playoff appearance. Last year's team, which basically had two-year starters at nearly every position, appeared to have both the talent and chemistry to advance but didn't.
This season, the Bulldogs are a team that revolves around a strong junior class that many thought would have needed another year of seasoning before it could contend.
But after displaying tremendous poise in victories over Loudoun County and then Friday night at Potomac Falls, 42-35, Stone Bridge is ready for the postseason.
"It feels good because we lost so many seniors and nobody thought we'd be able to make the playoffs," said senior defensive lineman Darryl McDowell, a three-year starter for the Bulldogs.
Stone Bridge is one of three area teams to qualify for the AA Division 4 Region II playoffs, the first time that has happened since 1991. Park View, which had clinched a spot last week, is in for the fifth consecutive season as Dulles District champions after knocking off Loudoun County, 14-0. Fauquier is in for the first time since 1997, after defeating Sherando, 47-13.
The scheduling of games hinged on yesterday's Liberty-Handley game, which ended too late for this edition. A Handley victory would mean Stone Bridge would visit Park View this week, seeking to avenge its 34-20 loss to the Patriots on Oct. 20, while Fauquier would travel to the top seed, Jefferson District champion Charlottesville (10-0).
If Liberty won, then Stone Bridge and Fauquier would switch opponents because the Falcons will have won the Northwestern District, giving them higher seeding over a nondistrict winner.
Defense Sparks Patriots If there is a confidence to the Park View football team, it stems from the Patriots' defense. Under the watchful eye of Coach Charlie Pierce, a defensive coordinator at Loudoun County before taking over at Park View three years ago, the unit has made a habit this fall of carrying the Patriots through yet another unblemished district season.
On Friday night against host Loudoun County, the defense was given a 14-0 cushion with which to work in the first half. And even though the Patriots' offense then stalled for the rest of the evening, the lead never lessened -- and Park View's control of the game only slightly flickered.
"Coach Pierce is a mastermind of defense," senior defensive lineman Tyler Webb said. "Every week, we have a new defense to learn. We learn it . . . and it all comes together."
The shutout was the Patriots' third in their final four games. Park View's opponents have scored six points since a 34-21 victory over Stone Bridge on Oct. 20 -- the first game after the sniper shootings.
A fifth consecutive district title -- the Patriots won the Liberty District in 1998, the Northwestern District in 1999 and 2000, and the Dulles District the last two seasons -- wasn't secured until junior T.J. Disney forced a fumble that was recovered by Josh Gazes at the Park View 34-yard line with 2 minutes 35 seconds to play.
The team's defensive performances only added to its comfort level heading into the playoffs. With next week's AA Region II Division 4 semifinal, every player on the Patriots' roster will know what it's like to play in the postseason.
The core of Park View's defense, however, knows nothing other than reaching the playoffs.
"It's just like another game," senior lineman Everett Grimes said. "It's just like another regular season game, except we have to win."
-- Drew vanEsselstyn
Foddrell Shines Early Dwayne Foddrell didn't feel well before Fauquier's game against Sherando on Friday night and didn't play past the first quarter. But the junior still sparked Fauquier to an early first-half lead in the Falcons' 47-13 victory in a Northwestern District game in Warrenton.
Foddrell, starting at quarterback, threw a 44-yard pass on the first play of the game, which set up a 26-yard touchdown run by senior Jonathan Bolden on the next play.
At running back, Foddrell rushed for 90 yards, scoring twice on runs of one and 75 yards, as the Falcons exploded to a 24-7 first-quarter lead.
"I didn't feel good in pregame; I just felt tired," said Foddrell, who missed the first three games of the season with mononucleosis. "When I scored, I didn't even celebrate because I still felt tired."
Three other Falcons rushed for three more first-half touchdowns, and the defense scored on a safety and recovered five first-half fumbles.
"Our defense has been strong the whole season, and it was time for the offense to have a breakout game," said junior linebacker David Rawlings, who tackled Sherando running back Greg Mathes for the safety and had one fumble recovery. "It really helped the offense out when we kept forcing turnovers."
Senior quarterback Andrew Wilson rushed for 92 yards on 11 carries, including touchdown runs of 46 and 39 yards. Senior fullback Charles Jenkins scored Fauquier's final first-half touchdown on a 25-yard scamper on fourth down, which gave the Falcons a 40-7 halftime lead.
-- Colin Fitzgibbons