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I have to admit, there was something very satisfying about the way Stone Bridge’s state championship game with Highland Springs ended today.
Yeah, a title was awarded, but if you've followed Stone Bridge football for a long time like I have, it felt more like a journey had finally ended. A trophy was not only awarded, but a debt from the past had been settled. The curse had been broken. The slate was clean.
Let me first confess before explaining what I'm talking about that when it comes to the original three Ashburn high schools, I’m a shameless homer. Since I live about one mile from Broad Run and about a mile and a half from Stone Bridge, I’m even more of a homer. And since my daughter graduated from Stone Bridge, I’m even worse with the Bulldogs.
You might as well say “Doh” and call me Mr. Simpson.
So when people talk about how long it’s been since the Bulldogs have won a state championship in football, I remember all of it clearly. I’ve watched just about every title game that Stone Bridge has been in, and I remember the blowouts as well as the close ones. My daughter’s senior year, the Bulldogs even ended up playing my high school – Lake Taylor in Norfolk – in Charlottesville and Stone Bridge had the ball and momentum on its side in the final moment.
But only a few yards shy of what would have been the winning touchdown, the Bulldogs fumbled. Which began a string of "what could have been" memories when it came to Stone Bridge.
I was on the field at Scott Stadium talking to head coach Mickey Thompson after he won his first state championship in 2007, asking him how special it was to be back at his alma matter (he played for the Cavaliers) to win his first title at Stone Bridge. Given all the talent he had coming back, and that he had just beaten the state's powerhouse program (Phoebus) in the semifinals, I thought for sure he’d have a handful more within the decade.
Instead, I watched the Bulldogs lose to Phoebus three years in a row, lose to Lake Taylor in 2012, then lose three in a row to Highland Springs in 2015, 2016, and 2018. Last year they were in the state title game again, that time losing to Maury.
All losses hurt, but the one in 2016 just stuck with me. Stone Bridge had driven 80 yards in the final minutes, scored a TD with 1:22 to go, then successfully went for two to lead 29-28. It looked like the Bulldogs would - and should - win another state title.
But Highland Springs drove back down the field, and on a key play that got the ball down to the 10, a Springer wide receiver pretty blatantly pushed the Stone Bridge defensive back out of the way to catch the ball. While coaches, players and fans screamed, the play stood. Instead of being close to midfield, Highland Springs was near the 10, which set up the winning touchdown play with 26 seconds to go.
Like today, it was a lob pass where the Highland Springs player out-jumped a Stone Bridge defensive back to score the deciding touchdown.
After the game, not much was made of it, as Highland Coach Loren Johnson and Thompson are two of the classiest coaches in the game. Thompson just said he should have run the ball more and shouldn’t have left enough time on the clock to allow the drive to happen. Thompson’s closing comment that day was “I’m going to remember this.”
The two teams played again in 2018, and Highland Springs won 37-26. With father time bearing down on Thompson, I started to wonder if he would get that one last chance to beat the Springers.
Today he did, appearing in the state title game for the 5th time in 6 years. He had to be feeling a sense of deja vu, as when Stone Bridge missed a short field goal in the final seconds to force an overtime, I know I'd be thinking “how could this be happening again?” Then there was the jump ball in the end zone that decided the game.
While somewhat similar to the game-winning play in 2016, this time it was Billy Wiles who lofted the pass and Jacob Thomas the receiver outwrestling a defender for the ball, and both wore Stone Bridge jerseys. The Bulldogs won 13-10, and thanks to Muoka Musau, who posted the video you see above of the final play on Twitter, you can experience the touchdown yourself.
There was pandemonium. There was cheering. There was justice. This time the ball finally bounced Mickey's way and he got his second state title.
So if it felt like the end of a long journey today, there's a reason: it's been 14 years since the last time it happened.
But today Mickey Thompson and Stone Bridge got that second state title you always knew they'd one day get.
As Tom Petty once noted, it was the waiting that was the hardest part.
Great piece. Thank you. It has been quite the journey. These boys, this team, this coaching staff - special.