The Stone Bridge Bulldogs on Saturday earned a spot the team's fifth state championship game in eight years after grinding out a 28-21 road win over the Hanover Hawks and gritty quarterback Sam Rogers in the AAA Division 5 semifinal.
Stone Bridge appeared headed for a blowout early in the match up. Displaying the same type of surgical precision that helped the team score more than 60 points in two of its first three playoff games, the Bulldogs needed just nine plays and less than three minutes to take a 14-0 lead. Those Sterling Dailey touchdown runs capped 77- and 71-yard drives.
But the game soon morphed into a seesaw battle packed with big plays and high drama, most of which Hawks’ QB Rogers supplied. The 6-foot, 210-lbs. quarterback – who also starts at linebacker for the Hawks – frustrated the Bulldog defense with a steady mix of hard-nosed running and an uncanny ability to keep plays alive.
These attributes were most prominently displayed on the Hawks’ drive to open the third quarter. Trailing 14-7 – after Rogers connected with Donte "Don't Call Me Albert" Haynesworth for a touchdown in the second quarter – Hanover recovered Stone Bridge's onside kick attempt to open the half and went on a remarkable eleven play-drive to tie the score.
On that drive, Rogers eluded the rush of Gatorade's Virginia Player of the Year Jonathan Allen and connected with LaMont Stubbs to convert on third down and 22. Rogers then connected with Mason Bazla on another long third-down conversion, and later topped that play with a rocket throw that Josh Harris hauled in for a fourth down and six conversion deep in Stone Bridge territory. Fittingly, Rogers took the ball into the end zone on the next play on a 3-yard run, sending the home crowd into a frenzy and swinging momentum squarely back in favor of the Hawks. Rogers finished the game as the Hawks’ leading rusher with 122 yards. He accounted for 260 of Hanover's 300 total yards of offense.
"You try to tell the kids how good Rogers is. He's not really big, he's not overly fast, but this guy can make a play,” said Stone Bridge head coach Mickey Thompson, adding that the coaches kept telling the players, “’He's a great player.’ And they found out in a hurry that he's a great player."
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they have a pretty good quarterback of their own in the Stanford-bound Ryan Burns, who channeled his inner Sam Rogers by doing something Stone Bridge fans may not be accustomed to seeing him do: rushing the ball. With an offense sputtering after the two opening scores, Thompson went to the staple of past Bulldog championship teams: the "44," or heavy, package. With a loaded backfield and the Hanover defense daring the Bulldogs to run with their quarterback off-tackle, Thompson and Burns obliged. Burns rushed for several key first downs, including a fourth and two attempt, and helped setup up Christian Strahin's 3-yard touchdown plunge to give the Bulldogs a lead they would not again relinquish.
"I haven't run much this year, but freshmen year and sophomore year [I did], so I'm kinda used to it, and I just had to get back in that zone and that's what we did tonight," said next month.
Burns added several more key runs on the Bulldogs’ final drives that helped setup a D'Ante Yarborough touchdown jaunt to extend the lead, and then run out the clock after Rogers flashed his last bit of magic: an amazing 26-yard touchdown pass under pressure to Haynesworth on fourth down and 23 to trim the lead to seven.
Burns finished the game with 15 runs for 68 yards, while Dailey paced all runners with 130 yards.
The Bulldogs next face the Lake Taylor Titans, who needed a last second field goal to beat North Stafford 23-21. The Titans were just a week removed from shocking longtime Stone Bridge nemesis Phoebus 54-0 in their regional championship game. The game kicks at noon Saturday, Dec. 8, at the University of Virginia's Scott Stadium in Charlottesville.
"We're just going to prepare as best we can. We can't do anything about them," Burns said about the match up with Lake Taylor. "We know they're a great team, we were kind of expecting we'd play them at the end of this season, but we just have to have a great week of practice and have a great plan and I think we can handle them."