Stone Bridge 27, Massaponax 21
After the group hugs and team pictures with the 5A Region Championship trophy, one mantra rang out from the victorious Stone Bridge football players.
This team, which last year advanced to the state finals but came up short of a championship, knows how important this next game is. They know that it will take one more postseason victory to achieve its ultimate goal.
If the team plays like it did in the fourth quarter of its the regional championship, one more game will result in a championship.
Trailing on the road in the fourth quarter, Stone Bridge orchestrated a late comeback, sparked by three forced turnovers, for a 27-21 win at top-seeded Massaponax.
The third-seeded Bulldogs advance to the 5A State Championship game Dec. 10 in Hampton to face the winner of the other 5A regional final game between Highland Springs and Northview. Heading to its seventh state finals appearance under head coach Mickey Thompson, the team is also looking for its second championship.
“I feel fantastic,” Thompson said. “We’re fairly healthy, and we’re finding a way to win.”
Stone Bridge forced the Panthers into turnovers in three of their last four possessions, fueling the Bulldogs as they turned a 21-12 deficit into a 27-21 win.
The last turnover proved the most important for Stone Bridge. Down six with seconds left, Massaponax drove deep inside Stone Bridge territory. But Hunter Petrakis picked off Panthers’ quarterback Kam Jackson near the red zone, preserving the win.
“We bend, we don’t break,” Petrakis said. “There’s ups and downs in the game, but we don’t break. That’s one thing our defense doesn’t do.”
Earlier in the game, with Stone Bridge trailing 21-19, several Bulldogs swarmed Jackson, sacking him and forcing him to fumble. That set up excellent field positions for the visitors, who quickly drove down the field to set up a go-ahead 18-yard touchdown run from Josh Breece.
Massaponax responded on the ensuing possession with its own drive deep into oposing territory. But on a fourth down play in the red zone, Paul Moore and Jack Kosko got to a scrambling Jackson, disrupting his pass attempt and batting it to the ground.
The late defensive stands, and the turnovers in particular, proved the turning point in stopping the Panthers’ explosive, ground-based offense. Massaponax went up 7-0 early on a Jackson run and were able to respond to every one of Stone Bridges’ counter punches, never trailing till late in the fourth.
Jackson also had 53-yard second-half touchdown run and a 47-yard touchdown pass on a fourth down throw to Jordan Kalemwa, who beat two Bulldogs defenders for the catch and the score.
Running backs Trey Carson and Trey Watkins were also threats in Massaponax option look. Carson had a 35-yard touchdown run off an option pitch, and for a while it seemed the host Panthers would be advancing to Hampton.
Until the turnovers.
In addition to the game-sealing interception and the sack-fumble that set up the go-ahead touchdown, Dohnavyn Jefferson picked off Jackson early in the second half to end a promising drive for the Panthers.
Stone Bridge might not have needed the late heroics from its defense had its offense been more efficient in the first half
The Bulldogs drove inside the red zone on all three of its first-half possessions, but only came away with six points. Turner was intercepted in the end zone on the first drive, then the team turned the ball over on downs on its next passion.
On the third possession, Turner found Daniel Thompson on fourth-and-long completion. On the next play, he found receiver Tyrese Johnson uncovered along the sideline for the score. Full back Bradley Block was stuffed on the ensuing two-point try.
The offense, anchored by its own multifaceted ground attack and efficient passing from Turner, was more effective in the second half, scoring 21 of the teams 27 points after half time. Breece finished with two rushing scores, including the dramatic go-ahead touchdown, and fellow running back Josh Lawyer also found pay dirt for the Bulldogs.
While Bulldogs bend-but-don’t-break defense surrendered yards to one of the state’s best offenses, it didn’t surrender many points, especially in the first half, where it surrendered a lone touchdown.