Monday, December 3, 2007

A Trip to the Shed Leads to an Inspired Second Half

A Trip to the Shed Leads to an Inspired Second Half

SB scores 24 unanswered points to knock off undefeated Phoebus, 38-24, and advance to the AAA Division 5 state football finals

By Dan Sousa

Ashburn (Dec. 3, 2007) – In the closing moments of the first half of Saturday’s AAA Division 5 state semifinal playoff football game Stone Bridge High School let a 14-7 lead over undefeated Phoebus slip away in an uncharacteristic downward spiral of fumbled snaps, missed tackles, dropped passes and finally a muffed punt that led to the Phantoms go-ahead score with just 16 seconds left.

What the Bulldogs (13-1) got during the intermission was a trip to the “shed”, the storage building just off the northwest corner of the field, and one of head coach Mickey Thompson’s sternest halftime speeches in his 18-year head coaching tenure. What occurred in that shed worked better than any proverbial “trip to the woodshed” as the Bulldogs buried the defending state champions with 24 unanswered straight points, including three Jeron Gouveia touchdown runs, to win 38-24 and advance to Saturday’s noon state final against undefeated Potomac (13-0) at UVa’s Scott Stadium.

“At halftime I was beside myself,” admitted Thompson.

He challenged his “skill players to” do better. He challenged the team’s leadership to step up. He challenged the team to believe, as the coaching staff did, that they were the best team in the state.

Coming out of a speech like that, a team might simply tear the shed door off with emotion that could evaporate before the second-half kickoff, but the Bulldogs, 75-man strong playoff roster, came out eerily quiet. They warmed-up after the long halftime in complete dead silence.

It was the calm before the storm that would blow the Phantom’s 20-game winning streak away.

“We realized how good we were,” said junior defensive end Zach Thompson, who along with the Bulldogs other Division I junior defensive end prospect Brian Slay, moved over to offense in the later stages of the second half to power a crushing SB running game. “We came out in the second half and just took over.”

Well almost, Phoebus, with their band still high-stepping it back to the grandstands after a rousing halftime performance that even had the SB fans on their feet, had 19 seconds more on the center stage before the Bulldogs broke their leash. First the Phantoms blew through unblocked to slam SB senior Matt Irwin on the second half kickoff and then two plays later, Patrick Thompson, Zach’s twin brother, threw an interception that Markell Wilkins returned to the Bulldogs 6.

Lights out? Dial another state title for yet another “757” area code team … hardly.

The Bulldogs made the defensive stand of their season. First the SB defensive line, as they had all afternoon, stuffed Phantom star running back Shawn Alston for no gain. The junior came into the game with 1,659 yards and 26 touchdowns but was held to 19 yards Saturday on nine carries.

Running between the tackles against the Bulldogs, with nose guard Jimmy Bradford sandwiched between Thompson and Slay has been Mission Impossible all season for teams. The Bulldogs game plan Saturday not only utilized that talented trio but mixed it up with a variety of 4-man and 5-man fronts; enough to keep the Phoebus blockers guessing.

On second time, Phoebus junior quarterback Tajh Boyd went back to pass but SB brought the pressure and Boyd, with Slay in hot pursuit, scrambled out of bounds for a 5-yard loss. On third down, Boyd threw incomplete and the Phantoms settled for a 29-yard field goal and 24-14 lead.

“That was important that we didn’t let them score a touchdown,” said Zach Thompson. “If they had had scored a touchdown they would have gotten a lot more momentum.”
Phoebus (13-1) knew that the script to a happy ending for its fans was to combine equal parts tenacious defense and a power running game to basically demoralize an opponent. It's the football version of playing a mean-spirited game of "keep away" and the Phantoms rode this tactic a 2006 state title as well as titles in 2001 and 2002.

Only on this Saturday before a packed stadium in Ashburn, with Phoebus seemingly riding high on a 10-point second-half lead, it was Thompson's Bulldogs putting on a display of smash-mouth football that this area has not seen in many years, if ever.

Stunned fans that made the trek from Virginia Beach watched as Virginia-Tech bound Gouveia rushed for 89 yards on 17 carries in the second half and score three touchdowns to lead Stone Bridge to the stunning victory.

“I wanted the ball. I wanted to run the ball,” said Gouveia. “I’m bruised and bleeding everywhere. (Phoebus) was tough and physical.”

Gouveia took a hit in the first half on a high pass over the middle that might have sent some lesser players to the sidelines for the remainder of the game. Gouveia’s take on the lick he took: “It felt so good.”

Good because he held onto the ball for a first down and the key catch led to Stone Bridge’s first score, a circus one-handed, left-handed diving grab by Ryan Moody to tie the score at 7-7 in the second quarter.

“I play safety so I knew that’s going to happen,” said Gouveia. “My first thought was “damn it Patrick” and then I just told myself to catch the ball and hold on because I knew I was going to get drilled.”

Stone Bridge went ahead on Mike Olson’s 41-yard interception return which was created when Doug Sims deflected the ball as Boyd was trying to pass and it fluttered into Olson’s arms who took it to the house for six. Olson had a standout game on defense with a sack, a forced fumble and generally he was around the ball all day.

Gouveia’s muff on the punt, after Phoebus had tied the game on a quick drive after Olson’s TD, led to the late score that could have been a knockout blow.

“I knew I had to comeback in the second half and make a big play for my team,” said Gouveia, who had the support of his teammates at halftime. “My team had my back in the shed.”

Thompson too noted that unlike some teams when things start to go south, the Bulldogs did not start bickering or pointing fingers.

“I didn’t see guys turning on each other,” said Thompson. “We had too many guys trying to go sideways in the first half.”

There was nothing sideways about what the Bulldogs did to Phoebus in the second half as, simply put, Stone Bridge steamrolled Phoebus on their way to next Saturday's state title game.

Thompson and his coaching staff saved some of their best ideas for playoff time, such as last week when they pulled out a “heavy package” against Edison in the regional final that hadn’t been used this season, putting Slay and Zach Thompson in the backfield, as twin blocking bulldozers in front of Gouveia.

That formation was used on 4th-and-goal from the 1 as Gouveia just plowed in to score to make it 24-21 Phoebus with 4:57 left in the third quarter.

The drive was only 7 yards but with an asterisk as the Bulldogs had driven from their own 20 deep into Phoebus territory only to have a Gouveia halfback option intended for Moody intercepted on the Phantom 4 by Colby Goodwyn. On the next play, however, Alston was stood up and swarmed between the tackles and the SB stripped the ball from the runner’s arms with Zach Thompson recovering.

Phoebus then threatened to score right back but cornerback Kevin Elliott, who has been making big plays all season on defense, stepped in front of a Phantom receiver for an interception at the SB 16. It was Elliott’s fifth pick of the season.

Stone Bridge then went on the drive of the season and possible the greatest drive in the school’s short 8-year history. The Bulldogs, playing against a team that had registered five shutouts in the last seven games, moved the ball 84 yards in 13 plays, chewing up 6:39 off the clock to score the go-ahead touchdown.

“I knew at halftime that we were getting a good push up front,” said Thompson. “Toward the end of the game we had Zach at tight end and Slay at tackle.”

Throw in junior guard David Wang, already committed to Virginia Tech where his older brother starts on the offensive line, and the Bulldogs had 785 pounds of college-bound blocking power in those three players alone. It was enough to keep Phoebus’s phenomenal junior defensive tackle Dominik Davenport and his D-line at bay just long enough for the hard-nosed Gouveia to get positive yardage.

The drive got going with a Patrick Thompson scramble on the second play and he looped around towards the SB sidelines, tight end Dan Elliott came back to throw a highlight-film block to spring the quarterback for 16 yards.

That would be the last time on the drive that the Bulldogs would even show pass as 11 straight runs, eight by Gouveia (103 yards on 19 carries), pushed the pile towards the end zone. In fact, at some point, the Bulldogs pulled Thompson all together and just went with a direct snap to the running backs and time after time, they pounded the ball over the left side.

Phoebus, which called time out midway through the drive to give its defense a breather, knew what was coming … they just couldn’t stop it.

The 'Dawgs domination is backed by this incredible second-half evidence: SB out-gained Phoebus 200-27, holding the Phantoms to one first down while the Bulldogs collected 12. SB's offense, running 35 plays from scrimmage, had the ball for 19 minutes and 16 seconds while the Phantoms, with only 19 snaps, had just 4:44 of possession. And in that brief time, the Bulldog defense forced Phoebus into three turnovers and a safety.

Thompson may have had to make a season-breaking decision on the drive, to go for a 26-yard Ronnie Shaban field goal to tie the game or go for it on 4th-and-2 from the Phoebus 9. Only, the SB coaches had a bit of trickery ready to get the first down.

Showing its heavy package on the fourth down play, the Bulldogs came to the line of scrimmage with its front not in its down position. After a delayed count, the entire SB line shifted into their down position and that brought several Phoebus players across the line of scrimmage for a 5-yard encroachment penalty. On the next play, Gouveia sliced in from the 4 and Shaban’s extra point made it 28-24 with 8:33 left in the contest.

The Bulldogs, penalty free to this point, jumped offsides on the ensuing kickoff which forced Shaban to kick from five yards back but the senior easily drilled the ball into the end zone for touchback. Shaban’s touchbacks in the second half helped SB control the field position and kept Phoebus from breaking any long runs on special teams.

The energized and rested defense put the pressure on Boyd and Olson sacked the QB on first down for a 3-yard loss. On second down Boyd hit playmaker Reid Evans in the flat. In the first half, Evans (162 total combined yards rushing and receiving) had broken off a 58-yard reverse to set-up a touchdown and then had caught the TD pass just prior to the end of the first half. On this play, SB linebacker Ben Palmer tracked down Evans and stuffed him before he could get upfield.

That left 3rd-and-9 and junior Daniel Allen, coming off the bench to play corner, deflected a ball near the Phoebus sidelines to force the Phantoms punting team on.

When you are so dominant you don’t have t punt much and that might have played into the long snap that went over punter Matt Cole’s head and with the Bulldogs racing to recover the ball for a fumble, it went out of the end zone for a safety.

SB led 30-24 with 6:50 remaining.

On the ensuring free kick punt by Phoebus, Gouveia was sure-handed and returned the ball 15 yards to the SB 41. Phoebus needed a stop but they couldn’t get it. SB running back Kareem Alexander and Gouveia alternated between running the ball at the heart of the Phoebus defense and Thompson called one final pass play, a big 19-yard gain from Patrick Thompson to Moody that put the ball on the Phantom 28.

It was Gouveia for 5.

Gouveia for 4.

Gouveia for 2.

Gouveia for 10.

And finally, who else, Gouveia for 7 as Zach Thompson blocked down on Davenport, for the final score.

If that didn’t have the Stone Bridge fans already rocking on their feet, the two-point conversion was an exclamation point put on by Thompson’s two sons, Patrick faked a handoff, and then flipped a pass out to his brother Zach, rolling out from the tight end spot, to make it 38-24 with 1:49 left.

On the very next play from scrimmage, Evans caught a pass for 17 yards but fumbled and … you guessed it … Gouveia was on the spot to cover up the ball.

And as Patrick Thompson took three straight snaps to a knee, and the Stone Bridge bench tried to douse the older Thompson with an ice bath, the Bulldog fans, not about to be held back on this afternoon of celebration, streamed through the far gate, with others leaping over the fences to get onto the field, and they danced in unison with their team.

For Stone Bridge it was a trip from the “shed” straight to Scott Stadium in Charlottesville where Thompson played his college ball for the Cavaliers and where his team will attempt next week to be just the second team in Loudoun history to win a state football title

“You are the best team in the state and next week you are going to prove it,” Thompson told his players as they gathered on the field for one final time this season.

To believe otherwise would be foolish ... might just require a trip to the "shed".
20747 Steamside Place
Ashburn, VA 20147

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