The Stone Bridge Bulldogs have stood on the doorstep of winning a second state title eight times since claiming their first state football championship in 2007.
The Bulldogs broke through in thrilling fashion May 1 in the Virginia Class 5 state championship game.
A spectacular 16-yard touchdown catch by junior Jacob Thomas in overtime lifted Stone Bridge to a 13-10 victory over Highland Springs at Varina High School in Henrico.
"This was one of those games where it wasn't good enough just to get here for us," said head coach Mickey Thompson, who has guided the Bulldogs to the state final 10 times since 2005. "We've been here so many times before, there was a lot of internal pressure for us to win."
After limiting the Springers to a field goal on the first possession of overtime, the Bulldogs faced third and goal from the 16-yard line on their ensuing possession following a chop block penalty.
Stone Bridge senior quarterback Billy Wiles rolled out to his right before releasing a pass toward the left side of the end zone. Facing blanket coverage from Highland Springs defensive back Damond Harmon, Thomas elevated at the perfect time and hauled in the pass with his right hand for the winning score.
The touchdown completion set off a frenzied celebration in the end zone as the Bulldogs (9-0) earned their coveted second state title in program history.
"When the ball was in the air, time kind of slows down," explained Thomas, who also played a key role for a Stone Bridge basketball team that won its first state championship in February. "I caught it and it was crazy."
While the offense put the finishing touches on the dramatic win, Stone Bridge's defense was key to victory. Outside of a dazzling 50-yard touchdown run by Highland Springs senior Jordan Jackson late in the third quarter, the Bulldogs held the Springers out of the end zone.
Thompson praised his players and coaching staff after the stingy defensive effort.
"We were going to let our defense try to win this game," Thompson said. "[Highland Springs] is great on defense. I knew it was going to be tough. But we are great on defense, too."
Stone Bridge was on the verge of winning the game in regulation following a 13-play, 57-yard drive that set up a field goal attempt on the final play of the fourth quarter. The 18-yard field goal attempt from the right hash mark sailed wide left to send the game into overtime.
The Bulldogs -- aiming to avenge losses to Highland Springs in the 2015, 2016 and 2018 state championship games -- would not be denied in overtime.
High school football overtime rules allow both teams to have a possession starting at the opponent's 10-yard line.
A 3-yard run, followed by an incomplete pass left Highland Springs facing third and goal from the 7-yard line. Stone Bridge senior Kandler Martin broke into the backfield and registered a key sack on third down to force the Springers into a field goal attempt.
"Kandler Martin had a great game. I haven't seen a game like that in a state final in a long time," Thompson said. "Kandler is a guy that doesn't get noticed, but he's a great player."
After Jayden Alsheskie converted a 29-yard field goal to put Highland Springs on top 10-7, Stone Bridge's offense took the field. Senior Najee Richards broke loose for a 9-yard run on the Bulldogs' first play of overtime to set up second and goal from the 1-yard line.
A second-down running play was stuffed, and Stone Bridge was whistled for a chop block penalty on third down that pushed the ball back to the 16.
That set up Thomas' highlight-reel catch of a touchdown pass from Wiles to put the finishing touches on a championship season.
One of many seniors who anxiously awaited the condensed spring football season after the normal fall season was postponed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wiles also connected with senior D.J. Cobbs on a 49-yard catch and run late in the first quarter to give Stone Bridge a 7-0 lead.
"We all played freshmen football together," Wiles said of his senior teammates. "Just to win it with these seniors meant a lot."
Stone Bridge 13, Highland Springs 10 (OT)
SB: Wiles 49 pass to Cobbs (Dastejerdi kick)
HS: Jackson 50 run (Alsheskie kick)
HS: Alsheskie 29 field goal
SB: Wiles 16 pass to Thomas