Perhaps the biggest play in Stone Bridge High School’s undefeated football season came midway through the third quarter Dec. 1 at Hanover High School in the Virginia Division 5 state semifinals.
Tied 14-14 with the Hawks after watching a 14-0 lead evaporate, the Bulldogs faced fourth-and-two from their own 40-yard line. Stone Bridge called upon 6-foot-6, 230-pound senior quarterback Ryan Burns to make the play. Even though the Stanford commit holds the school record for passing yards in a season, it wasn’t Burns’ arm but rather his legs the Bulldogs relied on as the hard-nosed Burns bulldozed his way for six yards.
“They were basically daring us to [run Burns],” Stone Bridge coach Mickey Thompson said.
And run Burns did as he carried the ball more times in the second half (12 rushes for 66 yards) than he did the entire regular season to lead the Bulldogs to back-to-back touchdown drives for a 28-21 win over Hanover.
Stone Bridge finished the contest with 31 consecutive run plays in a lightning fast second half that saw each team with just three possessions.
“It wasn’t the prettiest thing but we got it done,” Thompson said.
Stone Bridge (14-0) will face unbeaten Lake Taylor (14-0), a 23-21 semifinal winner over North Stafford, in the state final at 12:07 p.m. on Dec. 8 at the University of Virginia.
It will be Stone Bridge’s fifth state final appearance since 2005, and its third trip in four years. The Bulldogs won their lone state title in 2007.
“If we play our game we can come out with a ‘W’,” said Stone Bridge senior captain, defensive linemen Drew Dettra.
The first half against Hanover looked like vintage 2012 Stone Bridge as the single wing and spread offensive sets led to two quick touchdowns by junior running back Sterling Dailey (21 carries for 130 yards). Burns set up one of the scores with a 51-yard connection to senior Jimmy Higgins.
In the second quarter, Hanover’s version of “Johnny Football”, senior quarterback/linebacker Sam Rogers, stepped up and made it a ballgame.
First Rogers made an open field tackle to stop Stone Bridge on fourth down at the Hawks’ 33. Rogers - who accounted for 260 of the Hawks’ 300 total yards with 122 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and 138 yards and two passing scores—then led Hanover on a march that cut Stone Bridge’s lead in half, 14-7.
“That is one of the best players I’ve ever seen. He wasn’t the fastest. He wasn’t the biggest but he just tried so hard,” Dettra said.
The third quarter started with all the momentum on Hanover’s side as Stone Bridge gambled and failed to recover an onside kick to start the half. That gave the Hawks the ball at the Bulldogs’ 48.
Rogers, orchestrating conversions on third-and-22, third-and-eight and fourth-and-six, led the Hawks to a game-tying score with 7:22 left in the quarter.
At that point, Stone Bridge asked Burns to do something that he had not done very much since his freshman year, which was to be a run threat from the single wing.
“I hadn’t run a lot since my freshman and sophomore year so I had to get back in that zone,” Burns said.
While known as a pro-style quarterback, Burns has always been a runner with a fullback mentality - maybe too much as a shoulder injury suffered on a run early in his sophomore season curtailed his first varsity campaign.
Burns did start out running the ball efficiently early this season, with seven carries for 55 yards, when an ankle injury in the third game against South Lakes left him with a dodgy ankle for the big Broad Run rivalry game. Burns gamely led the Bulldogs to a win over the Spartans but his number to run the ball rarely got called the rest of the year.
“The issue hasn’t been if Ryan can run the ball but we have been concerned that he doesn’t avoid hits,” Thompson said.
With the season on the line, Burns showed a gritty combination of avoiding some hits, stepping out of bounds at times, but he also smashed into the defense like an angry bull, moving the chains forward time after time.
Stone Bridge threw the ball just one time in the second half and yet Burns was all smiles on the sidelines with his uniform looking like he had just completed a Tough Mudder race.
The Bulldogs go-ahead drive was 14 plays for 68 yards, culminating with a 3-yard touchdown run by senior Christian Strahin with 44 seconds left in the third quarter. Strahin, who only carried the ball five times in the regular season, produced three runs of seven-plus yards on the drive.
On Hanover’s next possession, Stone Bridge senior defensive linemen Jonathan Allen (Alabama commit), who must have felt like he had chased Rogers all the way to Tuscaloosa and back during the game, swatted down a Rogers pass on third down to force a punt.
Stone Bridge took over at its own 37 and grounded out an insurance score on 10 running plays. The Bulldogs mixed in Burns, Dailey, Strahin and D’Ante Yarborough, who waltzed in untouched from 5 yards out with 6:57 left in regulation. The Bulldogs’ bevy of backs combined for 278 yards rushing on 55 carries.
Stone Bridge senior kicker Brendan Smedley was not only good on all four extra-point attempts, his touchbacks on kickoffs were a big field position weapon.
The insurance touchdown was needed as Rogers scrambled around on a fourth-and-13 desperation play to find Donte Haynesworth in the back of the end zone for a 27-yard score with 4:10 left.
Stone Bridge, which had been shaky on covering up squib kicks as the Hawks kept the ball out of dangerous return man Rassaun Goldring’s hands, calmly fell on an onside kick.
The Bulldogs then drained the clock with seven straight running plays followed by three kneel-downs. Dailey rushed for three yards to convert a key fourth-and-two play on the drive.
Following the win, Thompson gathered his tired and cold players and told them they would face Lake Taylor in the state final. Lake Taylor defeated Stone Bridge’s state rival and four-time defending state champion Phoebus, 54-0, in the Eastern Region final.
“We will take our chances on the big stage and roll the dice,” Thompson said.
Stone Bridge will play in the title game without senior tight end Jake Kuzbel who left the semifinal game in the first half with a dislocated elbow.
Stone Bridge 28, Hanover 21
SB: Dailey 10 run (Smedley kick)
SB: Dailey 1 run (Smedley kick)
H: Haynesworth 7 pass from Rodgers (Rozsahegyi kick)
H: Rodgers 3 run (Rozsahegyi kick)
SB: Strahin 3 run (Smedley kick)
SB: Yarborough 55 run (Smedley kick)
H: Haynesworth 27 pass from Rodgers (Rozsahegyi kick)
-Rushing: SB - Dailey (21 for 130 yards, 2 TD), Burns (15 for 68 yards), Yarborough (8 for 41 yards, TD), Strahin (10 for 40 yards, TD); H - Rodgers (23 for 122 yards, TD)
-Passing: SB - Burns (5 of 8 for 87 yards, Int.); C - Rodgers (11 of 20 for 138 yards, 2 TD)
-Receiving: SB - Kuzbel (2 for 23 yards), Yarborough (2 for 13 yards), Higgins (1 for 51 yards); C - Harris (3 for 49 yards), Haynesworth (2 for 34 yards, 2 TD), Stubbs (2 for 20 yards), Bazala (2 for 20 yards)
-All photos by Pat Kane
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