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Multisport star Jacob Thomas leads Stone Bridge to another state football final

Tuscarora drops its Class 4 semifinal, and Independence goes down in Class 3

Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson talks to his players after a game in 2019. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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On the evening of Feb. 20, Jacob Thomas scored 27 points to help lead Stone Bridge to its first state championship in boys’ basketball. The next day was a Sunday, and Thomas spent it resting, relaxing and enjoying that title.

By that Monday, Thomas already was suiting up for football practice in the second phase of this abbreviated season. And this weekend he delivered more big plays for the Bulldogs, returning two interceptions for touchdowns in a 46-13 rout of William Fleming in the Virginia Class 5 state semifinals Saturday.

Thomas has made similar transitions before — in 2019, Stone Bridge lost the state championship in football Dec. 14, with basketball already underway — but to make such significant contributions in two sports in a two-month span required a special work ethic.

“The chemistry was the hardest part, just to get with all the guys again,” Thomas said. “I stayed after practice to learn some of the plays and get acclimated with the offense, but all the defensive stuff, I kind of knew already because of seven-on-seven.”

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Saturday’s game was close until Thomas broke it open. Midway through the third quarter, a Fleming pass was tipped in the air and floating toward Thomas — an easy popup. After he caught it, he was in a tackler’s grasp around his own 10-yard line, so trapped that he was about to pitch the ball to a teammate. But then Thomas felt the opponent let go, and he scampered 89 yards for the touchdown at the other end, outrunning everyone, including Fleming’s dual-threat quarterback, Dashawn Lewis.

“He’s a difference-maker,” Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson said. “A lot of times we’ll be struggling and he’s the guy that gets things going, changes momentum. I can’t say enough about his ability to make big plays in big moments.”

After a quick Fleming punt and a quicker Stone Bridge touchdown, Thomas caught another interception on fourth and four on the next possession. Again, he almost went down where he caught it, and again he ended up diving in for the touchdown, putting the Bulldogs ahead 33-13.

Stone Bridge (8-0) will head to Highland Springs next Saturday to revisit its tortured state-championship history. Since it opened in 2000, Stone Bridge has reached nine football finals and lost eight of them, with the only win coming in 2007 against Potomac. Highland Springs dealt the Bulldogs three of those eight losses, and Thomas said his team doesn’t run from that history, admitting, “We don’t have a very good past against Highland.

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“We talk about it all the time,” Thomas said. “Basically, at the start of the season, our goal is to beat Highland. We plan for every game, but that’s always in the back of our mind, that we go there and we’re expected to lose. We don’t want to have that around our team anymore, so we want to go out there, win and come home with a state championship.”

Tuscarora’s comeback falls short at Salem

Despite two brief windows of opportunity in the fourth quarter, Tuscarora came up short in a 21-14 loss at Salem in the Class 4 semifinals.

After trailing 21-7 entering the fourth quarter, the Huskies scored early and then took over at the 37-yard line after an interception by C.J. Camacho. On the next play, Camacho picked up a first-down reception, putting the offense 27 yards from a game-tying score.

But Tuscarora (7-1) would gain only one more yard, and on fourth and nine from the 26-yard line, Sonny Mannino’s pass was deflected in the end zone.

Salem picked up two first downs and then lined up in the victory formation trying to close out the game. But a personal foul stopped the clock and forced the Spartans to punt, and that punt was blocked. With one more chance, from the Salem 23-yard line with 18 seconds left, Tuscarora threw an interception.

The Huskies beat Salem in the 2019 state semifinals, earning their third trip to the finals before they lost to Lake Taylor the next week.

Independence drops first semifinal against Lafayette

Independence’s second season as a varsity program ended in the Class 3 semifinals with a 17-13 loss at Lafayette.

Junior quarterback Brian Courtney, who committed to Florida State on April 15, led the Tigers into the red zone, trailing 17-13 with under six minutes left. A run by Courtney would have put Independence at the 6-yard line, but a penalty nullified that play, and the drive ended with a false start, an incomplete pass, a sack and another incomplete pass.

The Tigers did not see the ball again. They finished with a 5-2 record, 18 months after starting 0-8 in their inaugural season.

“All we really ever want is to have a chance to win at the end,” Independence Coach RJ Windows said. “… Ultimately the result wasn’t what we wanted, but how great is it to take a second-year program and not only go that far but expect to win?”

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