HAMPTON, Va. — Stone Bridge football Coach Mickey Thompson stood at the 30-yard line with his hands in his pockets, watching another talented team of his walk one-by-one to midfield and receive a runner-up medal.
For the third time in the past four seasons, the Bulldogs had traveled south from the Northern Virginia territory they so often dominate to meet the power and speed of Highland Springs High from Henrico County in the Virginia Class 5 championship game. And for the third time in the past four years, the Bulldogs were overpowered by the Springers, falling, 37-26.
“I just don’t know what to say after games like this,” Thompson said. “These guys work for three or four years. . . . They worked their ass off to get here and they played like champions today. So there’s nothing I can say right now.”
Stone Bridge, which opened in 2000, is 1-6 all-time in state championship games. The program’s lone title came in 2007.
On Saturday afternoon at Hampton University, a swift and severe turn of events in the second quarter spelled doom for the Bulldogs (12-3).
With just less than seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Bulldogs stuffed the Springers on fourth down at the goal line. They sprinted off the field in celebration, sensing a chance to grab momentum.
But on first and 10 from the 1, quarterback Mason Tatum tried to throw the ball away and was called for intentional grounding. Because he released the pass from the end zone, Highland Springs was awarded a safety. One play after a big stop, the Bulldogs were down 9-7.
From there, things started to crumble for Stone Bridge. The Springers took the safety punt and scored a few plays later to make it 16-7. They made a quick stop and then ran in another to push their lead to 23-7 with 1:30 left before the break. All of a sudden the game was slipping away from the Bulldogs just five minutes after their goal-line stand.
“That little stretch, that was the game right there,” Thompson said. “If you take the second quarter out, for three quarters it was an even football game. But that’s where it got away from us.”
The Springers sensed an opportunity after the safety and jumped at it, countering the Bulldogs’ physicality with unstoppable speed. Stone Bridge’s running game, which had helped it plow over just about every opponent in Northern Virginia this year, was held in check by the Springers’ defense. The Bulldogs ran off the field at halftime with the dissatisfied and somewhat confused look of a team that is both in the hole and without answers.
The Stone Bridge offense played with passion in the second half, and Tatum finished with 257 yards passing and a touchdown. The Bulldogs cut the lead to 10 points twice. But the Springers were too much to handle, responding with a touchdown on the following possession both times.