After Stone Bridge’s Nick Mell scored each of his five touchdowns on a rainy Saturday afternoon, he tossed the ball to the referee and hugged his teammates. He would flash a smile, but the celebration was muted.

No big celebration either when he scored his fifth touchdown on a 40-yard burst in the fourth quarter. Not even when teammate Payton Hunter recovered a fumble and ran for more than 60 yards for a touchdown moments later. Mell — and the Bulldogs — stayed cool throughout a 49-26 win over North Stafford in the Virginia Class 5 semifinal.

The win earned Stone Bridge (12-2) a spot in next week’s state final, where it will meet Highland Springs. 

North Stafford finished 10-3.

 “I’m not a selfish person,” said Mell, who carried 34 times for 224 yards. “I just want to make sure that we keep grinding and scoring. I’m not a flashy type of player.”

 The most emotion he showed was in the third quarter when his team’s defense had trouble bringing down North Stafford’s dual-threat quarterback. From the sideline, he yelled, “Stop the quarterback!” On the very next play, the Bulldogs got their first sack of the game. One play later, Mell was on the field to help the defense force a turnover on downs.

With fellow running back Jared Cole out most of the game in concussion protocol, Mell, who now has 1,254 rushing yards this season, shouldered the load for the No. 10 Bulldogs.

 “We weren’t trying to get the score every play, just four, five yards a play,” Mell said. “We just wanted to get down on the field and capitalize on every offensive play.”

The plan worked in the first half when the Bulldogs scored a touchdown on their first four drives. But after making a tackle on defense in the second quarter, Cole, who also ran for over 1,000 yards this season, had to sit out the rest of the game, forcing Stone Bridge to change its offensive scheme.

“We were scrambling,” Coach Mickey Thompson said. “We had a contingency plan that we were going to play two quarterbacks. We didn’t think it would happen, but we had a plan.”

Starting quarterback Mason Tatum played as a fullback and added 146 yards on the ground. Thompson said that until Cole comes back, Hunter will get repetitions in practice to prepare for Highland Springs.

Stone Bridge made the state final in 2015 and 2016, falling to Highland Springs each time.

 “I’ve been playing against those guys since I was a little kid and I’m not losing to them anymore,” Mell said. “We’re going to go down to Hampton and we’re going to beat them.”

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