A last-minute Mitch-to-Meech miracle gave this Battle Of The ‘Burn – all of the sudden – to the Broad Run Spartans.
Final score –
Stone Bridge Bulldogs (5-2) 7 0 0 0 = 7
Broad Run Spartans (5-2) 0 3 0 7 = 10
1 / 7:24 – Stone Bridge TD (Bradley Block 2-yd run; Bradley Block kick)
2 / 0:13 – Broad Run FG (Atilla Buri 25-yd kick)
4 / 1:05 – Broad Run TD (Mitch Griffis 79-yd pass to Meech Hembry; Atilla Buri kick)
Broad Run High School, Ashburn, Va. (October 14, 2016) — Best. Battle Of The ‘Burn. Ever?
Well, I don’t know; I mean, I haven’t personally seen all of them, they’ve played each other so much over the years, in scrimmages and conference games, non-conference meetings and playoff tilts that I really can’t judge which has been the best ever but…
At least, it felt that way for the Spartans of Broad Run High School. They bested their guests from a couple miles north, the Bulldogs of Stone Bridge High School, on one miraculously well-performed playmake by two playmakers, one old and one young, making the game-winning play the very last possible moment they could make it.
It was 4th and 10 from the Broad Run 21 with less than 80 seconds to go. The home team had returned from its last timeout and was collecting itself for one more, ultimate, decisive skirmish in this epic battle of contentious neighbors. The score was 7-3 in favor of Stone Bridge, whose fans were almost as numerous and noisy as Broad Run’s were. L.F. Jennings Stadium rocked at both ends, the Dogpound invading Sparta, the Spartans fighting back.
The snap. The Spartans’ freshman quarterback Mitch Griffis set up quick, then sizzled the football like a fastball through a field of flailing arms. The perfect spiral slipped through two converging defenders and stuck, immediately, impossibly, into the hands of Broad Run’s senior home run hitter Meech Hembry – the Spartans’ yard-gaining score-making machine, their go-to guy of go-to guys.
At the moment he caught the pass, some 20 yards from where Griffis released it, Hembry already possessed yardage in the thousands and touchdowns by the dozens while wearing the maroon and gold. By the time Hembry, stride not broken but accelerated, had blazed a high-speed express route immediately to the center of the goalline, putting the Spartans in lead of their rivals for the first and best time all night, he’d gained no yard or TD bigger.
“Just to hear everybody screaming ‘Go Meech!’, that was a helluva feeling.” said the senior, amid poses for pics and a quick photo opp with the Battle Of The ‘Burn trophy before it was whisked away to the brick-walled safety of Ashburn’s oldest school.
“Mitch put it right on the money.”
Moments after his turnaround touchdown, Hembry, playing centerfield on defense, subsequently sealed the game’s deal when he picked off a Stone Bridge pass and ran it back to the 3.
That’s where the Spartans took a knee to win by 3 and halt a 3-game defeat streak to the Bulldogs. With the last whistle, maroon-clad students hopped the fence to bask with their uniformed classmates in Battle Of The ‘Burn glory. A unison chant of “Broad-Run, Broad-Run” rose up to the sky.
It’s a childhood dream come true for Griffis.
“This is an experience I’ve been waiting for for eight years now,” the freshman said. “It’s exhilarating. I was nervous all week, though, but it was awesome.”
He knew about the Battle Of The ‘Burn because his father, Matt, has been Broad Run’s head coach since 2010, and spent 10 years before that on the Stone Bridge staff with perennially successful head coach Mickey Thompson – a Broad Run grad.
Matt Griffis bellowed his pride into the Spartans’ postgame huddle.
“You were resilient! You never stopped fighting!” he told him, his voice hoarse. “That’s what Spartans do. Never give up on anything.”
Griffis said the entire Broad Run community felt the tension of Stone Bridge Week.
“I’m excited for our whole school,” the Broad Run coach said. “It’s a little special when you’re playing the Battle Of The ‘Burn…. When the stands are already filled up and you haven’t even taken warmups, you know it’s a big game. It’s like playing in a regional championship, in the middle of the season.”
Thompson, Stone Bridge’s only head football coach ever, seemed taken somewhat aback by what had happened.
“I’m not used to losing,” the coach said. “It’s not the end of the world, but it sure feels like it right now.”
The final-minute fireworks added a row of exclamation points to an otherwise understated game. Like most battles, it wasn’t always pretty – more like 46 minutes of a chess match with shoulder pads, as two squads laden with offensive potency mostly tackled and wrestled each other.
Out of Stone Bridge’s famed single-wing, Bradley Block chewed up 15 yards with the game’s first play from scrimmage. The Bulldogs mustered just five more gains of 10 or more yards the rest of the way. Broad Run was no more prolific, producing six 10+-yard plays themselves.
The two head coaches – both known better for their offensive acumen – gave praise to their respective defenses’ performances.
“Our defense played phenomenal. They’ve played great all year,” Griffis said. “We want to stop the run, and the kids came up huge tonight.”
Thompson saw his team produce its lowest point total in more than a year.
“We just had to finish drives. We didn’t move the ball effectively at all,” the Stone Bridge helmsman said. “We played really well on defense tonight. They’re too good on offense to keep giving them opportunities. We gave them one too many opportunities.”
Early on, the Bulldogs sniffed out a hole in the Spartans’ net. With their second possession, senior QB Easton Turner lofted a beautiful pass to connect with junior wideout Tyrese Johnson for a 48-yard gain to the 2. Block steamed through moments later for the first score.
Broad Run had the chance to answer the Bulldogs’ go-ahead, but Griffis misfired aiming for an open Nick Robinson as the senior tight end led all defenders down the middle. That drive then petered out.
Later, the Spartans found themselves punted inside their 10 where Ryan Braithwaite coughed it up and Nate Fender claimed it for Stone Bridge. The joy was very short-lived, as the Bulldogs immediately returned the favor by botching a reverse handoff so that big Broad Run sophomore John Birchmeier could kick it down the field, follow it and finally pick it up.
The Bulldog defense stood tall, however, limiting Hembry to four yards on three rushes and forcing a harmless punt. From midfield, Turner found a target and threw, but was clobbered by a Broad Run lineman as he did. The ball flipped end-over-end through the night air, coming down where only senior linebacker Foster Vargo was. He corralled it and took off, seeing green grass and one man to beat. He shook that man, Joshua Breece, once on the way down the field, but the speedier Breece caught up from behind at the 10.
That was the Spartans’ cue to give the ball right back, which they did on a fumble recovered by Aidan McFarlane. But when Broad Run’s defense then allowed nothing, the teams’ turnovers led to no points.
The first half nearly gone, the Spartans got it on the Bulldogs’ 27 and moved to the 15. Griffis rolled out and saw Birchmeier breaking free in the end zone, so he flung it there. Birchmeier slid on his knees but couldn’t catch it, marking the second near-TD the freshman QB almost had.
Left-footed kicker Atilla Buri salvaged the short-field opportunity, punching through a smart-looking field goal from the left hash to break the Spartans’ goose egg.
Broad Run opened the second half with the ball and let Braithwaite run with it. The speedy senior, his curly locks flying, turned a zone-read into a 21-yard gain as the Spartans made the red zone. A few plays later, they were a yard short on 4th-&-5, ending a six-minute possession scorelessly and still behind.
A trade of uneventful possessions led to the final quarter, both sides of the crowd going wild with chanting students and clanging cowbells. They got louder when Stone Bridge faced a 4th-&-5, but only the visitors’ side kept it up when Block broke through several tackles for a big 21-yard run.
Up 7-3 with three minutes left, the Bulldogs reached the red zone with the chance to salt it away. They only went backwards, though, as senior linebacker Brandon Gonzalez sacked Turner to turn it over on downs and Broad Run had the ball, on the 21, with 2 to go, down 4, in the Battle Of The ‘Burn.
Had ’em right where they wanted ’em.
Three fruitless passes led to a last-ditch timeout. On 4th-&-victory, Mitch threw it for Meech to catch and run with it while nine other guys helped make the miracle happen; suddenly, just like that, the Broad Run Spartans had won. Somehow.
I witnessed it when it happened, right there in front of me. I saw Griffis wind up and fire, I saw two Bulldog defensive backs licking their chops at the oncoming football, and I saw Hembry, running a post pattern, snag it cleanly as the ball – somehow – got through both defenders. I saw Hembry make a mad dash for the end zone, and I heard (and felt) the unbridled roar of multiple thousands shocked into a joyous delirium.
I witnessed a kind of miracle.
“This is a crosstown rivalry game. Everybody’s going to be here,” Hembry said. “This is lit.”
Amazing play. Amazing game. Albeit not always stellar or crisp, the Spartans and the Bulldogs engaged in fierce battle, every yard contested, every tackle assisted. It was a matchup worthy of the rivalry, the sort of outcome that’ll have you believing the hype before the next Battle Of The ‘Burn.
“I don’t know where else you can find this kind of energy in a rivalry,” Matt Griffis said. “You’re missing out if you don’t get to play in a Broad Run / Stone Bridge game.”
Best. Battle. Ever.
Big Night, All Around
Everything about this evening, from the bands to the anthem, the pre-game dedication to the ballgame itself, was big-time. A second concession stand was opened to help feed the throngs of three or four thousand. Even the Moon showed up for this one, its nearly-full gibbous face peering down to check things out.
The evening’s festivities were officially dedicated to the families of our nation’s past and current military personnel. A great many spectators wore just-purchased t-shirts – clashed in Broad Run maroon or Stone Bridge blue – reading Battle Of The ‘Burn: The Center of Loudoun Football. Proceeds from shirt sales, it was announced, directly benefited the Fisher House Foundation (www.FisherHouse.org), which helps military heroes and their families receive and handle medical treatment. A moment of silence gave pause to ponder every man and woman who’s served, and what they are owed.
The national anthem was a team effort, as both schools’ bands were blended together to orchestrate the tune. Backed by that large accompaniment, Broad Run student Nadia el Hafdi stood with a microphone before the massive crowd as her melodious voice rendered a heartfelt version of The Star-Spangled Banner.
The Marching Spartans, Broad Run’s talented Virginia Honor Band, opened their 10-minute halftime extravaganza with the unmistakable riff of Beethoven‘s fifth symphony. The Broad Run cheerleaders – who earned second place out of 15 in the Loudoun Cheer Championships the next day – got some pep help from several little sisters from the Ashburn Youth Football League.
It was, from start to finish, a truly great Friday night of fun, family, friends and football. Just reporting the facts from an extra special Viva Loudoun TopTicket Of The Week. Dun-dun-dun, DUUUUUUNN…
Broad Run stats –
Rushing: Meech Hembry 26-83; Ryan Braithwaite 7-37; Mitch Griffis 1-4
Passing: Mitch Griffis 4 of 12 for 105, 1 TD; Ryan Braithwaite 1 of 1 for 4
Receiving: Meech Hembry 1-79, 1 TD; Nick Robinson 2-16; Corey Phillips 1-9; Daniel Hall 1-5
Stone Bridge stats –
Rushing: Bradley Block 15-75, 1 TD; Joshua Breece 6-32; Josh Lawyer 4-17; Dohnavyn Jefferson 1-3; Easton Turner 7-(-3)
Passing: Easton Turner 4 of 12 for 73, 2 INTs
Receiving: Tyrese Johnson 2-55; Daniel Thompson 1-9; Dohnavyn Jefferson 1-5
Other scores –
Potomac Falls 17, Briar Woods 14 (OT)
Loudoun County 35, Rock Ridge 28
Loudoun Valley 21, Freedom 14
Dominion 32, Champe 18
Woodgrove 56, Heritage 22
Tuscarora 41, Edison 7
Central 48, Riverside 20
Off week for: Park View
VivaLoudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Jason S Rufner
for Viva Loudoun Media Communications