Monday, December 3, 2007

Stone Bridge Gets It Done In Every Aspect

Stone Bridge Gets It Done In Every Aspect
By Andy Hayes - Publisher & Senior Editor
December 2, 2007

ASHBURN, VA - This wasn't supposed to be the year that Stone Bridge would return to the title game, it was supposed to be a rebuilding year. A new quarterback, several new lineman, and big questions on defense, the Bulldogs had all the makings of a team that needed a season to get ready for another title run. However, 14 games later, the 2007 Stone Bridge Bulldogs have possibly become the best team in school history.

With Saturday's win over Phoebus, it is easy to compare the 2005 and 2007 Stone Bridge Bulldogs. Both teams will have played in the state finals, both teams will have won a minimum of 13 games, and both teams put up amazing statistics. But this year's squad is a more polished team in every aspect.

Despite the numbers on offense, the storyline that continues to take center stage this season is the play of the Bulldog defense. Stone Bridge turned the ball over 4 times against the defending state champions, and just about every time, the Bulldog "D" came up with a takeaway or stop on downs to keep Phoebus from taking advantage of the miscues.

Led by their dominant front seven, the Bulldogs held in check the Phantom's leading rusher Shawne Alston (9 carries for 19 yards). Phoebus finished the day with just 136 yards on the ground, and 58 of those came on one play in the first half. In the second half, the Bulldogs also began to get pressure on Phoebus quarterback Tahj Boyd. Boyd is one of the state's best junior quarterbacks and at times, he really hurt the Stone Bridge defense with his passing ability. Boyd finished with 166 yards passing, but the Bulldogs picked him off twice. Linebacker Mike Olson's 41 yard interception return for a score in the first half was the play of the game in the first half, and Kevin Elliot's interception late in the 3rd quarter couldn't have happened at a more crucial time with the Phantoms marching toward a score.

A unit that by next spring, could very well feature up to 5 major college football players, is the perfect compliment to the dominant Stone Bridge offense. The Bulldogs have joined the party in the state's final game next week because they also play tougher than their opponents.

It was never more evident than on Saturday when Stone Bridge limited Phoebus to a net 23 yards of total offense in the second half. That's 23 yards total! Phoebus had moved the ball with ease in the first half, but couldn't muster much at all in the second half. What does that tell me? The defensive coaches for Stone Bridge know how to make halftime adjustments, and the players understand how to execute those adjustments.

That brings me to the second reason Stone Bridge is in the state finals, the Bulldog offensive line. At the beginning of the season, head coach Mickey Thompson told Gameday at our media day luncheon that he felt his offensive line unit could become the best he's ever had at Stone Bridge. Consider that prognostication to now be a fact.

The Stone Bridge offensive line is led by junior David Wang. In Saturday's game, Wang hurt his left quad muscle on the second play of the game, but Wang played through the injury and put together a tremendous and gutty performance. In the 4th quarter, the Bulldogs put on an absolute clinic, dominating the Phoebus defense and gaining 6 to 7 yards on just about every carry. Juniors Brian Slay and Zach Thompson lined up in the single wing formation on the line and the power displayed was impressive.

Senior Jeron Gouveia was the beneficiary of his line's performance on Saturday, scoring 3 touchdowns and gaining 103 yards on 19 carries. When Mickey Thompson noticed that his line was brow beating the will of the Phantom defenders in the trenches, he made one of the smartest decisions of the game. He put the ball in the hands of his offensive line, and his senior playmaker Gouveia, and both didn't disappoint.

The Bulldogs scored 18 unanswered points in the 4th quarter, but the biggest play of the game came on a 4th and 2 with Stone Bridge trailing 24-21. With under 5 minutes to go in the game, the Bulldogs called timeout to discuss their options. Kick the field goal and the game is tied with an uncertain outcome. Go for it on 4th down and fall short, and Phoebus can run the clock and potentially pull away with the win. Get the first down and you could win the game, but Thompson and the Bulldogs made it even easier. After the timeout the Bulldogs came to the line in their jumbo package, but they didn't need to run a play because Phoebus jumped off-sides with a hard count from Gouveia, and the penalty gave Stone Bridge a first and goal. Gouveia punched it in right after, and the entire complexion of the game changed.

I've been calling Stone Bridge football games for years now, and when the playoff season comes around, Mickey Thompson usually gambles on some 4th down plays that 99% of all coaches in football would never touch. But Thompson refuses to be anything but aggressive, and his style never changes. Whether Thompson would have called another timeout and then gone for it if Phoebus hadn't jumped offside, only he knows, but I'm about 100% sure he would have gone for it. In fact, I'd be worried about him if he hadn't.

Thompson has achieved about everything he possibly can in coaching, except one thing, winning a state title as a head coach. He has been there twice, once in 1999 at Park View, and once with Stone Bridge in 2005, both times his teams fell. He was an assistant on the 1988 Park View team that won it all, so he has experienced the joy of winning the final game of the year, but it isn't the same as guiding your own team there.

While Thompson will tell you he doesn't need the state title ring to feel good about his career, it is the final thing left in a hall of fame coaching career. The truth is, Thompson is as good as it gets in the state of Virginia, and for that matter, in any state. His teams beat you because they are tougher, smarter, and better coached. It helps to have great talent, but the thousands in attendance Saturday saw a Phoebus team with more speed, and more championships walk to the bus on the short end of a game that saw Thompson's team wear them down and beat them with the X's and O's.

The mark of a great coach is multi-faceted, but there are some traits that can easily be identified. Thompson has them all, and that is why he has more than just his players pulling for him next week to win his first state championship. This could be the year that the proverbial monkey gets swatted off Thompson's back. After seeing Phoebus, who has to be the state's best opposition in division 5, the Bulldogs have a great shot at winning against Potomac.

The Panthers are undefeated and from the Northwest Region, but with just one week to prepare for the single wing and the big uglies in the trenches that Stone Bridge has peaking at the right time, the planets might be aligning just right for Thompson's Bulldogs.

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