Final score –
Potomac Falls Panthers (6-3) 3 14 0 0 = 17
Stone Bridge Bulldogs (5-4) 0 6 8 6 = 20
1 / 6:15 – Potomac Falls FG (Alex Nemer 34-yd kick)
2 / 10:01 – Potomac Falls TD (Kash Jackson 4-yd run; Alex Nemer kick)
2 / 3:01 – Potomac Falls TD (Brady Williams 1-yd run; Alex Nemer kick)
2 / 1:51 – Stone Bridge TD (Chase Ridley 1-yd run; kick missed)
3 / 0:31 – Stone Bridge TD (Joshua Breece 66-yd run; Joshua Breece 2-pt run)
4 / 6:33 – Stone Bridge TD (Dewayne Winston 18-yd run; kick missed)
Stone Bridge High School, Ashburn, Va. (October 30, 2015) — They say it’s better to win ugly than to lose pretty. Maybe they don’t know what they’re talking about.
The first half – in which the Potomac Falls Panthers rang up 17 straight points, moved the ball down the field offensively while defensively keeping the opponents misfiring – was simply ugly for the Stone Bridge Bulldogs. The upstarts from Sterling simply owned the game, and by rights of such ownership, dictated how things went.
Then, the ugly stick swung the other way. Suddenly, the Panthers couldn’t much move the ball, at least not over the ground. Meantime, the Bulldogs – performing on their Senior Night – found running room that had been pretty scarce previously.
The end result was a three-point victory that left Stone Bridge head coach Mickey Thompson about as displeased as a game-winning coach could be.
“I’m glad we won, the grit and the battle. I like the way we came back. But we just really played poorly. There’s no other way to talk about it,” the coach said. “I don’t want to detract from them, because they’re a good football team and they play well. But I can’t explain why we’re playing so poorly.”
The veteran coach with the unbelievable winning percentage obviously had the previous Friday’s sound defeat to Tuscarora still fresh in his mind.
You see, Thompson isn’t concerned so much about one game, but about the process of the season. His Bulldogs will play in the postseason (so too will the Panthers), but Thompson has led teams to the playoffs enough (is every single year enough?) to know that a new level needs to be reached in the second season, lest it be a very short season indeed.
“I’m talking about mental errors, where we’re supposed to be and all that kind of stuff,” he continued. “If we can’t do that, it’s going to be an early out. I’m happy we won, I’m proud we came back, but…we gotta play better than that.”
The moral of the story might be: Sometimes good enough isn’t quite good enough – at least from the Bulldogs’ perspective. To the heartbroken Panthers, perhaps it’s more like: When things are going well, keep going. Once you stop, somebody starts gaining on you.
It was an overcast, chilly autumn evening, the most raw Friday night of the season to date. Potomac Falls won the coin toss and chose to receive, a decision rewarded when Brady Williams connected with Kaevon Chase to convert a 3rd-&-long, and Grant Misch banged forward to convert a 4th-&-short, all setting up Alex Nemer‘s line drive through the uprights to give the Panthers an early lead.
Senior quarterback Joe Thompson, who’d missed the last few Fridays on account of an injured ankle, stepped into his customary role behind center. He cannot be faulted for the interception he gave up with his first pass attempt, which clanged off the hands of its intended receiver and into the diving arms of senior cornerback Jack Mologne.
That turned out to be the contest’s sole turnover, and it was made painless when Potomac Falls soon punted. But the Panthers were back at it with their next possession, when Williams stuffed it into the gut of junior back Kash Jackson, needing a few inches on fourth down for a first down. He got that and many more inches, zooming off the right edge for 19 yards.
Later that drive, Jackson converted another 4th-&-short, setting up a four-yard scoring scamper in which he bowled over two defenders to break the plane.
Precisely six minutes later, Potomac Falls tacked on six more points. Jon Lewis shrugged off two would-be tacklers on his way to the 2-yard line. Four plays later, after three goal-line stands by the Stone Bridge defense, Williams took one step back as if to throw, then two steps forward into the end zone.
The ballgame now 21 minutes old, the Panthers were cruising. Little did they know that’s where their cruise would terminate.
Stone Bridge’s second-half comeback actually began late in the first half. From their own 30, the Bulldogs’ junior back Joshua Breece busted off a 35-yarder, made highlight-worthy by two separate spins away from attempted tacklers. Next play, Breece did it again, chewing up 30 more yards going around the other side.
“I knew my team needed a lift, and that was the perfect scheme that our coaches drew up for us,” Breece said, then complimented his offensive line. “We blocked it perfectly and we made a big play…. I love running behind my big linemen, especially for a small running back like me. They’re amazing.”
Breece’s sudden exploits set the stage for senior wideout Chase Ridley to take an end-around the necessary six inches, cracking open the Bulldogs’ goose egg before halftime set in.
Ridley said the Bulldogs’ halftime experience was more matter-of-fact than a yelling barrage.
“A lot of people would suspect that Coach would go back there and give it to us,” the senior said. “But he just let us know that we had to do it ourselves. We knew what had to be done, we just had to execute.”
Neither side exactly picked up where it left off, as the two Conference 14 foes exchanged punts with their first four drives of the second half. That’s when a strong Breece was felt again.
With Potomac Falls stuffing the box, daring Thompson – completionless in his first eight passes – to throw, Stone Bridge took possession on their own 34. The give went to Breece, who broke through a tackle near the line of scrimmage and was gone, outracing the Panthers 66 yards for the game-changing, momentum-swinging touchdown. Breece tacked on a two-point run for good measure, and the Panthers’ lead was whittled to three.
Under the Halloween chill, the crowd had been mostly mute, but Breece’s excitement rapidly spread through the stands and, apparently, a little got on the Bulldog defense too. As the final quarter got underway, senior linebacker Matt Fialdini registered run-stopping tackles on consecutive plays, halting a drive and forcing a punt. The Bulldog faithful roared.
It was then Dewayne Winston‘s turn to shine on Senior Night. The upperclassman ran for four yards, then another 13. Handed the ball again, Winston made one juke at the line and exploded into green space for the go-ahead score, the last quarter half over.
“Better blocking, definitely,” is how Winston put it. “We were thinking we were going to pound it, but they were stopping us. So we came out dedicated to the run game, and got it done.”
It took about 20 minutes to play the last six minutes, as a feeling of latent intensity was palpable from both sets of stands. But the fourth quarter would belong to the Stone Bridge defense, who ferociously tore through the Potomac Falls line to sack Williams twice – first by Kellis Martin, then by the combo of Max Weis and Aidan McFarlane.
The Panthers’ last gasp was on 4th-&-21 with 1:46 remaining, when a scrambling Williams found his safety value, Misch, alone near the sideline. Misch loped ahead as defenders closed, then was forced out of bounds a few yards before the line to gain.
“This game meant a lot,” Ridley said. “It was Senior Night, and we have a lot of great seniors we wanted to win for. It was a great atmosphere, and a lot of emotion went into this game.”
It was a game of what-ifs for Potomac Falls. Four times, Williams aimed for an open Chase and missed; once, he threw it straight to Misch, who dropped it. The backfield trio of Misch, Jackson and Lewis combined for 103 yards, but mustered just 19 in the second half, all by Misch.
Negative plays were an asset and a detriment to both sides. Potomac Falls pushed their hosts backwards on seven plays, while Stone Bridge knocked the Panthers back on seven others, including three sacks of Williams. McFarlane was credited with two of those. Jackson Brown dented the scoresheet with a bevy of tackles.
Mologne, Kyle Hobbs, Malik Crowe, Owen Bolyard and Khalid Turkistani made tackles for loss on the Panthers’ behalf.
Penalties were few but big for both sides, nearly evenly splitting 13 flags. The Bulldogs were called for two pass interferences and two personal fouls, while Potomac Falls was whistled for one personal foul.
SUB: Stone Bridge’s Night Of A Thousand Seniors
A extensive halftime show included the public honorings of soon-to-graduate senior Bulldogs, joined by families and friends. A total of 22 football players and football managers, 25 band members, six cheerleaders and two cheer managers, five golfers and nine cross-country runners were announced and ceremoniously presented to the adoring crowd at Bulldog Stadium.
Individual photographs of all of the above appeared in rotation on the stadium videoboard throughout the evening.
During halftime, it was announced that the Marching Bulldogs band had achieved a “superior” rating in a recent assessment by the Virginia Band & Orchestra Directors Association.
Stone Bridge stats –
Rushing: Joshua Breece 25-197, 1 TD; Dewayne Winston 6-45, 1 TD; Chase Ridley 8-40, 1 TD; Joe Thompson 2-1
Passing: Joe Thompson 2 of 11 for 22, 1 INT
Receiving: Brett Smedley 1-13; Chase Ridley 1-9
Potomac Falls stats –
Rushing: Grant Misch 14-36; Jon Lewis 5-34; Kash Jackson 6-33; Tommy Hardman 7-6; Khalid Turkistani 1-3; Brady Williams 3-(-16)
Passing: Brady Williams 10 of 18 for 88
Receiving: Grant Misch 4-42; Kaevon Chase 2-26; Kash Jackson 3-13; Tommy Hardman 1-7
Other scores –
Dominion 27, Heritage 21
Loudoun Valley 40, Park View 29
John Champe 43, Loudoun County 6
Freedom 56, Riverside 16
Woodgrove 63, Rock Ridge 0
Robinson 31, Broad Run 20
Off week for: Briar Woods; Tuscarora
VivaLoudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Jason S Rufner
for Viva Loudoun Media Communications