Nelson Stickley could not bring himself to watch as his Park View teammate, junior Brandon Develli, attempted a potential game-winning 45-yard field goal with 9.7 seconds left in the Virginia AA Division 4 final today at James Madison University's Bridgeforth Stadium.
The senior fullback finally had to look up to see what he hoped he wouldn't: Develli's kick was long enough, but it sailed just wide left, allowing defending state champion Salem to hold on for a 21-20 victory, and its third state title in four years before 10,200.
"I heard everyone on our side start to go crazy," said Stickley, who rushed for a game-high 148 yards on 21 carries. "Then I saw the ref [signal wide]. I dropped to my knees and cried."
No. 4 Park View (13-1), the Northwestern District and Region II champion, was making its first state championship appearance since 1988, when the Sterling school won its only state title, beating Brookville, 51-7.
The Patriots dominated their opponents throughout the season, outscoring them 545-108. Salem (14-0) was equally dominant, outscoring its opponents by a 533 to 78 margin. Salem had shut out seven of its previous nine opponents. But the game came down to a few feet, and Develli's kick--into JMU's college uprights, which are two feet narrower than high school uprights--just missed. It was close enough that fans on both sides of the stadium cheered.
"As soon as it left my foot, I thought it was good," Develli said. "Then my heart just stopped. On [high school] uprights, it's good."
Park View piled up 381 yards of total offense today--compared to 250 for Salem--but the Patriots were not very sharp offensively. Park View's offense was penalized seven times for 45 yards.
"We made a lot of mistakes, and we mishandled the ball," Park View Coach Mickey Thompson said. "We struggled on offense all day. Give them credit--that was the toughest defense we've faced. We were hit-and-miss all day."
Park View built a 14-0 first-quarter lead on two touchdown runs by junior wingback Dustin Dudinski. Salem cut the score to 14-7 by halftime, and tied it early in the third quarter on a 28-yard run by Spencer Christley.
"I was ecstatic that we were only down 14-7 at halftime," Salem Coach Willis White said. "We could've been down 21-0. At halftime, we were in disarray. Our game plan went out the window because they were quicker than any team we faced. Park View is a heck of a football team."
Junior quarterback Nick Smith led the Patriots on a seven-play, 80-yard drive that he capped with a one-yard touchdown run to give Park View a 20-14 lead with 7 minutes 50 seconds left in the third quarter. Develli's extra-point attempt was low and wide.
Salem took its first lead when senior quarterback Andy Mullins hit senior wide receiver Jason Buster for a 33-yard touchdown reception with 6:27 left in the game. Sophomore place kicker Nic Schmitt converted the extra point to give the Spartans a 21-20 lead.