Stone Bridge Head Coach Mickey Thompson (center in yellow jacket) has led the high school’s football team to six state championship games. After losing 10-7 to Broad Run in the regular season, Thompson’s team is looking to come out ahead of their cross-town rivals in this week’s playoff.
Once again, the path to the state football championship runs through Loudoun County.
Stone Bridge High School hosts Ashburn rival Broad Run Nov. 18 in a second round playoff match up that follows a dramatic regular season victory for the Spartans in the “Battle of the Burn.” At stake in the rematch is a spot in the third round of the playoffs – and the latest chance to notch the County’s place among the elite of Virginia high school football.
In nine of the past 11 seasons, a Loudoun County public high school has made it to the Virginia High School League football championship game in at least one of the state’s six classifcations. Led by head coach Mike Burnett, Tuscarora advanced to the 5A state championship in 2014. That followed three-straight championships by Briar Woods in the 2010-2012 seasons. Under Burnett’s direction, Broad Run won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.
But of all these programs, Stone Bridge has been the most consistent. Coached by Mickey Thompson, the Bulldogs advanced to state championship games in 2015, 2012, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2005, winning it all in 2007.
“It’s always been Stone Bridge. We’re the consistent factor,” Thompson said. “That’s what we’re most proud of. We’re determined to make sure it stays Stone Bridge.”
Following a 4-4 start and a somewhat surprising run to the title game last season, Thompson’s team feels poised to bring home a championship this year.
“After last year, I didn’t think we had a lot of pieces to put together, especially on offense,” Thompson said. “I think that’s starting to come together this year.”
Standing in their way is their cross-town rival. Led by Matt Griffis, who took over the Spartans’ program after Burnett left for Tuscarora in 2010, Broad Run is looking to cement itself at the top of Loudoun County’s football hierarchy.
“I think in the regular season we proved we’re a good ball club. The playoff opportunity gives us another chance to prove that,” Griffis said.
Broad Run (8-2) stunned Stone Bridge (8-2) in their regular-season match up on Oct. 14. Trailing with seconds left, the Spartans scored a touchdown to defeat their rivals.
“We beat them for 59 minutes, they beat us that last minute. We have to close games out and show them who the better team is,” said Stone Bridge running back Josh Breece.
Breaking Down the Game
In the latest installment of their rivalry, both teams are hoping what channeled their regular season success can propel them further in the playoffs.
Offensively, Stone Bridge is led by Breece and Bradley Block, both selected to the All-Conference team, for their ground-based attack. The duo has made up for the loss of Joe Thompson, coach Thompson’s son, who started the previous three years at quarterback before graduating and attending UNC-Charlotte on a football scholarship. Thompson said this is another indication of the Stone Bridge system’s ability to plug in a wide variety of players who can move the ball effectively.
The system is going to make us a good offensive team,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the Bulldogs are confident their defense can continue to anchor the team. Led by Conference Defensive Player of the Year Daniel Renaud, Stone Bridge held it’s first 11 opponents to an average of 13.8 points per game. Alongside Renaud, the stalwart of the defensive line, Stone Bridge boasts fellow All-Conference performers Aidan McFarlane, Joey Nameth and Dohnavyn Jefferson in its stout defense.
The Bulldogs’ main concern on defense in this week’s rematch is Broad Run’s Meech Hembry. The conference’s Offensive Player of the Year has played at quarterback, running back and receiver for the Spartans and is the team’s most explosive offensive threat.
“The thing about Meech is that he’s an unbelievable football player, but he adds confidence to the team,” Griffis said. “He’s so charismatic. He really cares about his teammates. I think they play that much harder for him.”
Feeding Hembry the ball are Mitch Griffis and Ryan Braithwaite, the duo comprising Broad Run’s atypical two-quarterback system. Rotating snaps, Griffis said the two quarterbacks present more facets to the Spartan’s ground and arial attacks.
“The kids have a done a really great job of accepting their role and staring in their role and supporting one another,” Grffis said. “We have a really unselfish team where the kids are really looking out for what’s best for each other and not the individual. You have to love that. It’s very blue collar.”
Along with the trio of Hembry, Griffis and Braithwaite, all of whom rushed for more than 100 yards in last week’s first-round playoff victory over Tuscarora, the Spartans feature All-Conference skill position players in wide receiver Daniel Hall and tight end John Birchmeier.
Broad Run also is confident in its defense. The Spartan’s have four All-Conference performers on defense, including Hembry, who plays in the defensive backfield. Among the other top players are middle linebacker Mike Arrington, the team’s leading tackler and nose tackle Erik Davenport, who Griffis credits with freeing up Arrington, and others, to make plays.
“We’ve always had a pretty good offense at Broad Run, but I think this year in particular our defense has been really, really good and it allows us to call the defense a little bit differently because we know what kind of defense we have,” Griffis said. “We can look to sustain drives, we can look to chew up clock and know that we don’t have to score 28 points to win a football game.”
Both teams are hoping their defenses will anchor their respective squads during the biggest game of the year. Much of the outcome will come down to the ability to keep the other team’s playmakers from big, game-changing plays that could swing the outcome.
“We’re not going to do anything different. We’re going to be who we are and play Broad Run football,” Griffis said. “We’ve had success with that for 11 games, so we’re not going to change the direction we’ve been going on. It’s the same thing they’re doing. There’s no secret recipe.”
Thompson had similar sentiments.
“In a big game, we’re not going to be tight. We’re going to be even more aggressive,” Thompson said. “We’re used to being in this type of game and we’re not going to change who we are. It’s going to be interesting to see who they are and how they respond.”
While the game divides Ashburn, both teams and their supporters know how much it means for the community, Loudoun County and another shot at a state football championship.
“It’s a rivalry, whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs, it’s a rivalry game, so the kids are extra excited about that, and the school and the whole Ashburn community, so it’s pretty awesome,” Griffis said.
“Everybody’s excited, the students are excited, even the teachers are a lot more excited than they used to be in the past, because they know for a fact that we should be beating Broad Run,” Breece said. “We dropped the ball last time, and we’d like to get back.”