The Loudoun Report: State final edition
We're only three days away from state final Saturday when a pair of teams separated by a mere 2.5 miles will each vie for a second Virginia state title in their respective divisions. Earlier this week, I chatted with Broad Run Coach Michael Burnett and Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson about their outlooks for Saturday's finals...
For undefeated Broad Run, Saturday's rematch of the 2008 AA Division 4 state final against Amherst provides an opportunity for a talented senior class to cement its legacy as one of the all-time greats in Loudoun and the state of Virginia. Over the past three seasons, the Spartans have compiled a 37-1 record and ride a 27-game winning streak into their meeting with the Lancers at Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium.
And for their counterparts at Stone Bridge, the AAA Division 5 final against long-distance rivals Phoebus presents a chance for redemption and the final hurdle for one of the more unexpected and underestimated state finalists in recent memory. But knocking off the Phantoms (14-0), who have won 29-straight dating back to a loss to the Bulldogs in the 2007 state semifinals, will be the toughest task yet for a team that just keeps finding a way to get the job done.
"I don't think you can underestimate what these guys can do," Thompson said of the Phantoms. "We've got a tall task and they're a good football team. We've definitely got our work cut out for us. You can't go in there and say, 'we match up great against them.' This is going to be a tough game for us, but we're going to be aggressive and take our shot and see what happens."
One year after the No. 5 Bulldogs (13-1) stormed back from a second-half deficit to beat Phoebus 38-24 in Ashburn en route to their first state championship, the Phantoms returned the favor, hammering a turnover-prone Stone Bridge offense 38-8 in Hampton Roads last November. The Phantoms went on to win their fourth state title since 2001.
"I think our guys want to show that they belong," Thompson said. "They want to show that we are Stone Bridge and that we didn't play great last time, but we want to show them that we can play a better football game."
Meantime, the No. 2 Spartans (13-0) have the blueprint for success against an Amherst team that had won back-to-back Division 4 championships before Broad Run came along in 2008. On a snowy field in Lynchburg last December, the Spartans pounded away at the Lancers' defense with state player of the year Breon Earl and then-junior T.J. Peeler and then capitalized on a couple timely connections from quarterback Chris Jessop to wideout Adrian Flemming to blank their opponents 13-0 and bring home the program's first state crown.
This time around, the teams are the same, but the venue is drastically different - something Burnett is hopeful won't affect his team's focus for the occasion.
"That's probably the biggest challenge is keeping them calm," Burnett said. "You're a teenage kid getting to go down to Virginia Tech and play and stay overnight and a lot of the whole hooplah with it. But we've got to keep them focused that we're going down there to play a football game.
"I want it to be a great experience for them, because in the end they're going to remember this for the rest of their lives, but at the same time, we've got to stay focused on the football part of it."
AAA Division 5 final
Stone Bridge (13-1) vs. Phoebus (14-0)
UVa.'s Scott Stadium, 12:07 p.m.
AA Division 4 final
Broad Run (13-0) vs. Amherst (13-0)
Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium, 4:30 p.m.
Keys for Stone Bridge against Phoebus
(with commentary from Thompson)
1. Give the quarterbacks a chance to make plays - For most of the season, the Bulldogs have leaned heavily on the running game out of the single wing while limiting the passing opportunities for junior quarterbacks Kyle Gouveia and Brian Rody. With terrible footing in Sunday's semifinal and a strong defensive front, the offense found little success on the ground, but Gouveia and Rody each game up with big passing touchdowns that proved to be the difference in the game. Phoebus gives up a meager 66 yards rushing per game, meaning Stone Bridge's two signal-callers will need to step up when called upon to get the offense down the field.
"That was the key to the game, being able to throw. I think if we gave them more opportunities, they would make more plays. We just haven't had to resort to that yet. We finally did and the game hinged on them making plays throwing the football and they were able to do that."
2. Make it to the half - Last season, the Bulldogs attacked the Phoebus defense from the start, which backfired with several costly early turnovers. With the spread offense virtually out of the equation now, Stone Bridge needs to picks its spots while extending drives by picking up chunks of yardage on the ground with senior tailback Marcus Harris and company.
"If we can get to halftime and be able to make some adjustments and be in the game, that's going to give us our best chance. At that point our kids will know that we can play with them and we'll be able to make adjustments to help them. Then we've got a ballgame."
3. Play your game - With these two teams facing off at the end of the last two year's, it's as if they've become district rivals, despite the distance between them. The coaches know one another and so do the players, meaning this game likely won't be won in the locker room, but on the field. The Bulldogs must believe they can compete with Phoebus and then simply go out and execute.
"It's the same Phoebus. They're going to look at our film and see that it's the same Stone Bridge for the most part. I don't think it's going to be a matter of who can trick somebody, it's just going to be a matter of who can lineup and compete. The key for us is going to be finding the best matchups for us and taking advantage of those - if there are any.
"There's really nothing else we can do other than do what we do, and they're going to do what they do. We've just got to try to find some place as the game goes on, where we can attack them."
Keys for Broad Run against Amherst
(with commentary from Burnett)
1. Control the flow of the game - The Spartans won the state title last season with a back-breaking fourth quarter drive to put the Lancers away and used a similar lengthy, clock-eating drive to finish off Powhatan in Saturday's semifinal. With an experienced offensive line and one of the top running backs in the state in Peeler, they'll look to shorten the game by piecing together long scoring drives once again.
"The only way to keep the ball out of their hands is to control the ball on offense. We have to do that and get first downs and run the clock and shorten the game a little bit to minimize the opportunities they get."
2. Take your shots - With Amherst focusing on stopping the run in last year's final, senior quarterback Chris Jessop found big-play receiver Adrian Flemming down the field for several critical first downs and what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. The elder Jessop is gone, but younger brother Connor has assumed the reigns and has the same ability to take advantage of an unbalanced defense. Whatever the weather conditions in Blacksburg, the Spartans must take some of the pressure off Peeler by involving Flemming and fellow senior receivers David Weaver and Joey Quigg to mix things up and keep the defense guessing.
"The key plays last year were all pass plays, and you've got to be able to be balanced to be successful. That's what made Saturday so hard is that we really didn't have an opportunity to be balanced, we pretty much had to say, 'okay, here we come,' and our kids were tough enough to do it. This week, obviously we're going to have to be more balanced.
3. Keep working - Broad Run has lived by that motto since Burnett's arrival and the mentality has paid instant dividends. Many of last year's standouts are back as seniors for this year's final and want to go out on top. They've been there and know what it takes to get the job done and now it's simply time to get back to work to finish what they started.
"Our whole premise is based on work. For us, once we win a game, we just look at it as we've got to get back to work. We're going to get to work and do the best we can and hopefully some things fall your way. But it's really about the work that goes into it."
Now for a few links to get you suitably fired up for Saturday's title tilts...
- A bit more context on the repeat matchups we'll see this weekend
12/8/09 - Finding familiar foes in the state finals
- The Daily Press in Hampton Roads laid out five keys to the Stone Bridge-Phoebus matchup, calling upon the results from the last two seasons and offering some added motivational advice to the boys from Ashburn. Terrible towel anyone?
- The same paper from Phoebus' back yard features a five-part series leading up to Saturday's final at UVa.'s Scott Stadium, which relives the matchups from the past two seasons and profiles the 2009 Bulldogs.
- And for a refresher course on the history of what has quickly developed into a cross-state rivalry...
12/2/07 - Stone Bridge rallies to victory, 38-24
11/30/08 - Phoebus crushes No. 1 Stone Bridge, 38-8
- A preview from Amherst's New Era - Lancers look to championship rematch against Broad Run
- Last year's result...
12/6/08 - Broad Run brings it home, 13-0
December 9, 2009; 5:01 PM ET
Categories: Broad Run , Football , Stone Bridge High School , VHSL
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