Stone Bridge running back Shamar Knight-Justice spent much of yesterday spinning around and past defenders in the backfield before taking off for big gains. After the Bulldogs completed their 52-12 home victory over Matoaca in the Virginia AAA Division 5 semifinals, only the senior's head was spinning.
"I thought it was all a dream," said Knight-Justice, who rushed for career highs of 183 yards and five touchdowns. "I didn't even know how to react.
"I still don't believe it."
Believe this: No. 9 Stone Bridge, which opened in 2000 and has played in the state semifinals three of the past four seasons, will play in a championship game for the first time on Saturday. In its first season in Group AAA, the Bulldogs will face Hampton (12-1), the winningest program in state history with 631 victories and 16 state titles, for the title.
Stone Bridge (12-1) will try to become just the second team from Loudoun County to win a state championship. Park View won the AA Division 4 title in 1988, and Bulldogs Coach Mickey Thompson was an assistant on that team.
"What we've accomplished at this school in this short amount of time, the kids now realize what they can do right now," said Thompson, who coached Park View to the 1999 Division 4 final, and is in the playoffs for the 11th time in 16 seasons as a head coach.
Thompson said he has been taken aback by his team's confidence all season as it made the move from the smaller AA classification. But the Bulldogs' single-wing offense backed up that swagger right away yesterday.
On the first play from scrimmage, Knight-Justice took a direct snap, spun around in the backfield and pretended to hand the ball off before darting ahead 11 yards. That became the backbone of Stone Bridge's offense for the game.
"When we start running the spinning series and it's working, that's what we're going keep doing," Thompson said.
Six plays later, junior quarterback Terrence Glenn scored the game's first points on a two-yard run.
Matoaca (11-2) fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Stone Bridge's Tony Lowery recovered at the Warriors 35. Off another backfield spin, Knight-Justice scored on a 27-yard run on fourth and two, and the Bulldogs led 14-0.
Stone Bridge recovered the ensuing onside kickoff, and even though the Bulldogs didn't score on that possession, they kept the ball from Matoaca until less than three minutes remained in the first quarter.
"We were already in a hole before we even touched the ball," Matoaca Coach Pat Manuel said. "In a game of this magnitude, it's tough on these kids to start that way."
Knight-Justice scored on a 20-yard run in the final minute of the first quarter, and on a 68-yard sprint seven minutes before halftime to make it 28-0.
After each of those touchdowns, the Bulldogs stopped Matoaca on fourth down, first on the Stone Bridge 12 and then on the Bulldogs 6 less than two minutes before halftime.