Stone Bridge sophomore running back Kevan Walker said it sank in for him Sunday afternoon. He and teammate Greg Fenner, a junior, sat watching "Friday Night Lights," a movie Walker had seen many times. Viewing it again the day after the Bulldogs had beaten Matoaca to advance to the Virginia AAA Division 5 title game gave him a new perspective.
"After the win Saturday, we were all saying, 'Yeah, we're going to the state championship,' " Walker said. "But for me, it was when we were watching the movie that it all finally hit me, and I knew it was for real. I looked at Greg and said, 'Wow. We're really going to play for a state championship.' "
For the Bulldogs, a dream season concludes in the Saturday afternoon sunshine.
That's when sixth-ranked Stone Bridge will play Hampton, the most storied program in Virginia High School League history, for what would be the Bulldogs' first state football championship -- and only the second ever for a Loudoun County school.
Much like the Texas high school team in the movie, which also faced a perennial powerhouse in its championship game, Stone Bridge's task won't be easy. The Crabbers have a record 16 state titles and 631 total victories. Hampton won four championships in a row from 1995 to '98.
"You look at what they've done in the past and of course you have to respect that," said senior running back Shamar Knight-Justice. "But we've got to focus on what's going on now, right this second. What matters is if our team is better than theirs this season, and can we go in there and run our plays and have success and bring home a championship."
Despite the difference in history -- Stone Bridge opened in 2000 and is making its first appearance in a state title game -- the Bulldogs and Crabbers have taken similar roads to the final.
For starters, each team entered this season with inexperienced players at key positions. Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson, who was an assistant on the Park View staff in 1988 when the Patriots won the area's only state title, went so far during the preseason as to dub his team the most talented but least experienced he had coached. Hampton Coach Mike Smith, whose 371 career victories rank first in Virginia history, said his group of primarily non-seniors was gifted but unproven.
As the season progressed, both teams gained confidence through consistency. The Bulldogs have won 11 consecutive games since faltering at Oakton on Sept. 16; the Crabbers have rattled off six straight wins, including avenging their only loss of the season to Phoebus in the regional final.
"It's definitely going to be a big challenge for us," Thompson said. "They're talented from top to bottom, and their quarterback is just incredible, a real difference-maker. Every time you watch him, he's making five guys miss. But I don't think we're going to be intimated on any level, because all season our confidence has just been building and building. We weathered the storm early, and every time we've won since then you can see the team pulling closer together."
Hampton junior Tyrod Taylor, the quarterback of whom Thompson spoke, has been highly recruited since his sophomore season. He led the Crabbers this season with 2,460 yards and 29 touchdowns rushing and passing combined, numbers that are not far ahead of Stone Bridge junior Terrence Glenn, who has totaled 2,205 yards and 25 touchdowns combined.
"I know their history, and I know their quarterback is supposed to be the best in the Class of 2007," Glenn said. "It'll be fun being on the same field with him, since he's the best in my class, trying to play up to his level."
Said Thompson: "I don't know where we rank exactly, but since 2000 we've got to be one of the winningest schools in the state ourselves. For us, this is about the present, not the past."