The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wild finish gives Stone Bridge football its second state title in 10 tries

Stone Bridge wide receiver DJ Cobbs hauls in a pass for a touchdown against Highland Springs. (SHABAN ATHUMAN/TIMES-DISPATCH/RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH)
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HENRICO, Va. — Billy Wiles and Jacob Thomas met early in their Stone Bridge High careers, in practice and on the sidelines and in seven-on-seven drills. Wiles would play quarterback, and Thomas would play anywhere, including quarterback, and they impressed each other by being two of the best athletes on the field.

Time passed, and Wiles’s career neared its end, but for a brief moment Saturday, the biggest moment, Wiles and Thomas were two kids slinging the ball around in a backyard. On the last play of overtime in the Class 5 state championship Saturday at Varina, Wiles was scrambling around the backfield, and Thomas was blanketed in the end zone.

They shared a look nobody else in the stadium could see, each knowing just what the other was thinking at just the right time. Thomas broke left to the opposite corner of the end zone. Wiles launched a desperation heave in his direction. At the last second, Thomas’s right arm snatched the ball out of the air and into his body as he fell to the ground, pushing the Bulldogs to a 13-10 victory over Highland Springs in an unlikely finish.

The only fitting reaction was delirium. Stone Bridge’s players piled on Thomas in the end zone. More than one Highland Springs player dropped to the ground and bawled. One tearful Stone Bridge assistant found Thomas and hugged him. Others looked at each other, outstretched their right arms and clawed their hands inward, as Thomas just had, reenacting a catch they will relive for years to come.

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

Perhaps that finish could only happen here, in the state championship, to this program, one that had reached nine title games in its 21-year history and lost eight of them, including seven in a row and three against the Springers.

Those previous games have produced reactions such as “I’m going to remember this” (2016) and “I just don’t know what to say after games like this” (2018), and on Saturday, Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson admitted, “It was hard for me to get excited about this game because I just couldn’t stomach another loss.”

At the end of the fourth quarter, Thompson had received a visit from familiar ghosts. With the score tied at 7 in the final minutes of regulation, the Bulldogs (9-0) drove to the 1-yard line and called a timeout with 2.8 seconds left. Their holder placed a tee on the 8-yard line, and an 18-yard field goal could end the school’s misery.

But the kick sailed wide left, and overtime began. Highland Springs (8-1) opened with a field goal, and Stone Bridge, again one yard from the goal line, committed a chop block and faced third-and-goal from the 16.

“When the field goal didn’t go and when we get down in overtime and we get a [chop block] and we get pulled off the goal line,” Thompson said, “I’m going: ‘Oh, my God. It’s happening again.’ I couldn’t help it.”

The play call was 46 Reach Pass, and Thomas did the rest. The junior, who returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the state semifinal and caught another at a crucial juncture Saturday, grabbed one more ball out of the picturesque May sky.

“It’s surreal for me,” Thomas said. “… I’m still just in shock, I guess.”

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