The first three weeks of the football season weren’t very good for eighth-ranked South County: Three games resulted in three losses. So the fact that the Stallions recovered from that poor start, won 11 straight and found themselves playing Phoebus in the Virginia AAA Division 5 final on Saturday was an achievement in itself.

But the Stallions’ improbable run came to a halt in a 20-10 loss to the three-time defending champion at the University of Virginia’s Scott Stadium. Five turnovers and the Phantoms’ playmaking ability kept South County from claiming its first football state title — one that seemed so far out of reach early in the season.

“You can go down this roster and compare them the teams we’ve played and find no explanation for why we won the games we did,” said senior Andrew Rector, who plays running back and linebacker for South County (11-4). “Our team has a big heart and I’m proud of what we did this year.”

Two South County turnovers in the first quarter, the first coming on the third play of the game, led to two scores for the Hampton powerhouse: a 26-yard field goal and 15-yard touchdown pass.

Stallions place kicker Michael Ferguson’s 27-yard field goal late in the second quarter made the score 10-3 at the half. “We were fortunate to be down by only seven,” South County Coach Gerry Pannoni said.

The Stallions’ standout defense, which notched 52 turnovers on the season, kept the game close. Senior Ryan Taylor blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt by Phoebus early in the second quarter.

South County also bottled up Phoebus’s two standout running backs, holding Tyrone Pittman and Dezmond Belfield — a pair of 1,000-yard rushers — to a combined 96 yards. The Stallions notched 13 tackles for a loss, three each for seniors J.P. Blake, Timmy Hunt and Devin Vandyke.

A two-yard touchdown run by senior Peter Basnight (110 rushing yards) on South County’s opening drive of the second half tied the score at 10. But the Phantoms (13-2) responded on their next possession with a 50-yard catch from standout wide receiver Romond Deloatch (148 receiving yards).

As they walked off the field, South County’s players struggled to contain their tears — they hadn’t experienced this feeling of loss in more than 12 weeks. But they also were proud of their improbable run.

“I had a good feeling that we were a state championship team just the way we played,” Vandyke said of overcoming an 0-3 start. “. . . We’ve been the underdog for a couple weeks now so I had a great feeling that we could to the U-Va. stadium if we believed in ourselves.”