Prior to its upset last weekend of four-time defending state champion Hampton, Culpeper said it would "shock the world." With their 21-12 victory over Henrico in today's Virginia AAA Division 5 title game, the Blue Devils shocked themselves.
As the Blue Devils passed their first championship trophy to one another along the sideline of the University of Richmond Stadium, several screamed, "I want to touch it, I want to hold it." They all wanted to feel the texture of success, dominance and achievement, which seemed so distant to the residents of the small, central Virginia town before last weekend.
"I want to cry now that it's all over," Blue Devils quarterback Mike Jenkins said. "But after going 14-0 and winning the state championship, you can't cry over that."
His coach found a way to moisten his eyes. Lou Sorrentino, equally overwhelmed, gazed in amazement at the approximately 5,500 Culpeper fans raucously cheering behind his team's sideline.
"It hasn't set in yet," Sorrentino said, sporting a freshly minted "14-0 State Champions" T-shirt. "Probably tomorrow morning it will. I just can't thank these kids and these fans enough."
It appeared emotionally impossible to surpass last week's victory and sense of accomplishment. "The one thing we worked on all week was not letting ourselves get overconfident," said Blue Devils running back-linebacker Daniel Winning, who caught two touchdown passes and led a spirited defense. "After we beat Hampton last week, we thought we could beat anybody.
"But in the middle of the week, Coach put a ban on Hampton. We weren't allowed to say it all week so that we could concentrate on this game. I think it helped."
The No. 3 Blue Devils concentrated the most on Henrico junior quarterback Aaron Alexander, who had thrown for more than 3,000 yards and 41 touchdowns in leading the Warriors (12-2) to their first state title game. But Culpeper mixed its defensive alignments masterfully, confusing the not-so-nimble Alexander and sacking him four times.
"That was the most pressure I had on me all year," said Alexander, who completed 15 of 30 for 171 yards with two interceptions.
Culpeper's defensive front constantly flustered Alexander, and its secondary played airtight coverage on Henrico's top wide receivers, Princell Brockenbrough and Anthony Hansom. The Blue Devils conceded short passes but prevented big gains. Steve Barber and Stefan Orange thwarted Henrico drives with interceptions, and Craig Rogers deflected three passes.
The Blue Devils, fearing an emotional letdown, ridded themselves of such concerns by taking the opening kickoff and driving 75 yards in 11 plays. Winning capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown catch from Jenkins. Culpeper never looked back, leading the entire way.
"I sensed a little uneasiness among our kids," Sorrentino said. "But the first drive alleviated any of that and allowed us to relax."
With 25 seconds left in the first half, Jenkins, on a sneak, ran right up the middle four yards for a touchdown that gave the Blue Devils a 14-6 lead. They extended it to 21-6 midway through the third quarter, when Jenkins hit Winning for three yards on the same play as their first touchdown, this time on the opposite side of the field.