Stone Bridge wasn’t seeing just another playoff opponent when it battled against ‘Burn foe Broad Run. This one was kinda personal too.
Final score –
Broad Run Spartans (9-3) 0 0 0 7 = 7
Stone Bridge Bulldogs (10-2) 21 0 7 0 = 28
1 / 10:09 – Stone Bridge TD (Easton Turner 40-yd pass to Tyrese Johnson; Bradley Block kick)
1 / 4:02 – Stone Bridge TD (Easton Turner 53-yd pass to Tyrese Johnson; Bradley Block kick)
1 / 0:53 – Stone Bridge TD (Leland Girdy 6-yd run; Bradley Block kick)
3 / 1:24 – Stone Bridge TD (Easton Turner 40-yd pass to Daniel Thompson; Bradley Block kick)
4 / 9:56 – Broad Run TD (Meech Hembry 9-yd run; Atilla Buri kick)
Stone Bridge High School, Ashburn, Va. (November 18, 2016) — The t-shirt had a simple design, a few silver letters on deep navy blue. If you didn’t know the context, the t-shirt didn’t make much sense. But that simple t-shirt – and the five words and two numbers imprinted on it – meant everything to the Bulldogs of Stone Bridge High School.
PUNCH THEM IN THE MOUTH, the bold letters shouted aggressively from the chest. The back of the t-shirt displayed only an unlabeled score: 10-7, the same disturbing ratio that’s been in the back of the Bulldogs’ minds since late in the evening of October 14.
That’s when the Spartans of Broad Run High School, Stone Bridge’s sometimes friendly neighbors from another part of the same town, shocked the Bulldogs by ripping off a long, late, game-winning touchdown to defeat the Bulldogs by a count of 10 to 7.
That set of digits – one barely more than the other, the second one uncharacteristically low – has stuck in the collective craw of the Stone Bridge football team. Having to hear the jubilant celebrations of their Broad Run counterparts stuck it in even further. The Bulldogs figured that one way to encourage quiet is to do what the t-shirt says.
So they did.
“This shirt means we had a fluke last time,” said junior wideout Tyrese Johnson, modeling it. “We were going to bring it to them this game and show them who the real Stone Bridge is, and punch ’em right in the mouth.”
The guy who tossed Johnson a pair of TDs was similarly emphatic about reestablishing neighborhood supremacy.
“They were talking a lot and I think it riled up a bunch of our guys,” senior quarterback Easton Turner said. “They were talking about coming into our house and punching us in the mouth, and we had to show them that we’re Stone Bridge, we’re not backing down from anybody.”
In the Region 5A North second-round playoff showdown in front of a hyped crowd heaped with Stone Bridge blue and Broad Run maroon, the Bulldogs came out from their corner with a plan to attack, and attack they did.
Senior tailback Joshua Breece, following a crashing offensive line, bullied his way to 13 yards on his first carry, setting the smashmouth tone the Bulldogs’ intended for the tilt. But what Stone Bridge had in store for its rivals was soon to be found in the chilly Ashburn air.
The first pass Turner threw spiraled beautifully, shooting out of his hand and deep down the field, catching up with Johnson’s fleet speed. But the ball overshot its fast human target and bounced incomplete in the end zone.
Still, it indicated the uncharacteristically aerial offense to come.
“You know Stone Bridge is single-wing, pound the ball, hit ’em in the mouth. But he trusted me enough to say, hey, you can go out and win us this game, with the help of our offensive line, go win this thing,” the QB said. “We executed our gameplan, hit all the shots that we wanted to, and it worked out.”
A 4th-&-7 confronted Stone Bridge on its opening drive, statement yet unmade. Inside Broad Run’s 50, of course they were going to go for it. Indeed, they went for it all, Turner rearing back and firing a high hard one down the field, Johnson running then turning then jumping then catching it over a draped defender at just the right point for tumbling backward into the end zone. First punch delivered.
“I thought that would give us the big play we needed, then we’d mix and match some other stuff,” Stone Bridge head coach Mickey Thompson said.
The Spartans suffered a bad handoff exchange on their initial snap, letting Bulldog junior linebacker Joe Nameth get his mitts on it. But the Broad Run defense, back out on the field already, tightened against Stone Bridge’s bread-and-butter single-wing, and a fourth-down pass came up a yard short.
The guests brought their own bread-and-butter in a powerful senior athlete named Meech Hembry. The Spartans fed their horse a few times as they gained a couple first downs, but the Bulldogs – with the region’s second least-scored-upon defense, next to Broad Run’s – stood Hembry up on a midfield 4th-&-3, and the blue side of Bulldog Stadium made noise.
They made a lot more noise while watching the very next play. Turner rolled a bit to his left, and the righty rotated his shoulders back and flung it. Jockeying with a DB, Johnson turned, found it, adjusted and kept turning, nearly but not going out of bounds and beating his turned-around defender by five yards. Second punch delivered.
By the time the game was eight minutes old, the Bulldogs had double the points they put up against Broad Run in 48 minutes five weeks before. In the opening quarter’s closing minute, after Leland Girdy picked his way through a maze of grasping arms for a short scoring scamper to polish off a bruising run-dominated drive, Stone Bridge had piled up as many points as the Spartans had allowed in any full game all year.
The going was tough for the visitors’ offense. Three first-quarter possessions resulted in a turnover, a turnover on downs and a punt; three second-quarter drives ended by punt, punt and halftime.
But while the Spartans’ offense struggled, the defense recovered its footing. A Ryan Braithwaite punt pinned the Bulldogs on their own 5 and the Broad Run defense kept them there for a punt. Later in the second, the Spartans denied their hosts another fourth-down conversion.
Twenty-one points in the hole but backed by some vociferous fans, the Spartans punched back. Braithwaite and freshman QB Mitch Griffis were seated in favor of direct snaps to Hembry, who with his offensive line smashed it right at the Bulldogs to the tune of a couple first downs. Hembry produced a first down out of a 4th-&-4, and the clock registered a possession more than six minutes old.
It became time wasted when Stone Bridge halted the Spartans on downs, taking over just outside Broad Run territory.
Then the Bulldogs went back to their modus operandi for the day: Chuck it. Any time. On 4th-&-9 from just inside the 40, Turner took a deep drop straight back, brought the arm forward and released. Daniel Thompson had a step going down the middle, waited for it and grabbed it as he fell in for six. Another big punch.
For the third time that night, Turner hit a home run, connecting the ball with one of his sure-handed receivers. Not your typical Stone Bridge offense, but a highly effective Stone Bridge offense.
Broad Run is a Battle Of The ‘Burn combatant too; they weren’t going to keep taking punches from the neighborhood kids and not strike back. Four scores of seven points to go, with the entire fourth quarter in front of them, the Spartans got down to work.
Hembry, who’d impressed through season after productive season with thousands of yards and dozens of touchdowns, used his arm to accompany his legs in moving the football down the field. He churned out gainers of 26 and 32 yards, then found Donovan Hale for a large gain to set up his own dash to paydirt, cracking Broad Run’s aging goose egg living the scoreboard. Now down three TDs; 10 minutes left; not out yet. Punch back.
Atilla Buri swung his left leg at the kickoff and sent it bounding haphazardly along the ground. It evaded everyone’s grasp until the Spartans collapsed on it well into Stone Bridge’s territory.
But the final punch of the night would belong to the Bulldogs, as the defense got into the act. Jack Kosko came free on a blitz, drilling an unsuspecting Hembry and popping the football free so Kellis Martin could land on it and rob Stone Bridge’s guests of possession, time and momentum. Though the Bulldogs fumbled it back to the Spartans, the game was effectively done.
“I’m proud of our kids. They worked hard all season, all off-season,” Broad Run head coach Matt Griffis said. “They bought in and trusted the process.”
Hembry shared a long embrace with his head coach, as the finality of the playoff game and his high school career set in.
“It means everything,” said Hembry, stoic against the emotions behind his eyes. “That’s the best coach I’ve ever had, helped me with everything.”
The opposing head coach had high praise for Hembry.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve seen in high school,” said Thompson, who’s coached high school football about twice as along as his players have lived.
After that opening-quarter offensive outburst, it was defense which won the Bulldogs’ day. The junior defensive end Kosko, senior defensive back Dohnavyn Jefferson and senior end Aidan McFarlane turned in noticeable performances, including Jefferson’s two pass breakups and a tackle for a fourth-down denial.
“They played as well as they did in the first game,” said the Stone Bridge head coach, undoubtedly thinking about 10-7. “I felt bad because they played so well in the first game and we didn’t get a win. At least we got a couple big plays on offense.”
For the second year in a row, the Spartans’ season concludes with a second-round playoff loss to the Bulldogs. Meanwhile, Stone Bridge moves into the third round for the third straight postseason – since Broad Run knocked them off in a 2013 playoff Battle Of The ‘Burn.
Until they meet again, and somebody starts punching.
The Spartans and the Bulldogs had identical 4-1 marks in Conference 14, né the Potomac District. Broad Run had the head-to-head advantage; Stone Bridge had the higher powerpoints ranking. Technically, they go down as co-champions.
But one little prefix wasn’t going to keep the Bulldogs from acknowledging the achievement. The players burst onto the field for the pregame coin toss through a huge banner proudly proclaiming them as “CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS!” No co- about it.
The list of 13 Bulldogs earning all-conference recognition names Johnson, Jefferson, Nameth, Martin, McFarlane, Thompson, Girdy, Breece, senior center Brian Fredrikson, senior linemen Dillon Carey and Aaron Pappy, junior fullback/safety/placekicker Bradley Block and Defensive Player of the Year Daniel Renaud.
(BR had a bunch too: Hembry at RB and DB, all-purpose senior Brandon Gonzalez, senior linemen Jacob Boone and Erik Davenport, senior center Connor Gorey, senior wideout Daniel Hall, senior linebacker Foster Vargo, junior linebacker Michael Arrington and sophomore TE/DE John Birchmeier.)
Stone Bridge stats –
Rushing: Joshua Breece 20-73; Bradley Block 7-28; Leland Girdy 3-1, 1 TD; Easton Turner 2-2
Passing: Easton Turner 8 of 17 for 193, 3 TDs; Joshua Breece 1 of 1 for 12
Receiving: Tyrese Johnson 3-97, 2 TDs; Leland Girdy 4-58; Daniel Thompson 1-40, 1 TD; Joshua Breece 1-10
Broad Run stats –
Rushing: Meech Hembry 28-96, 1 TD; Ryan Braithwaite 9-34; Mitch Griffis 3-(-28)
Passing: Meech Hembry 6 of 10 for 69; Ryan Braithwaite 0 of 1; Mitch Griffis 0 of 2
Receiving: Devin Paige 2-16; Donovan Hale 1-26; Spencer Payne 1-17; Corey Phillips 1-6; Daniel Hall 1-4
Other scores –
Potomac Falls 22, Albemarle 0
Dominion 42, Amherst 21
Woodgrove 57, Charlottesville 8
Up next –
Dominion at Woodgrove (Fri., 7 p.m.)
Potomac Falls at Massaponax (Fri., 7 p.m.)
Stone Bridge at Brooke Point (Sat., 1 p.m.)
VivaLoudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Jason S Rufner
for Viva Loudoun Media Communications