By Owen Gotimer
Ashburn (October 16, 2016) – Facing a 4th-and-long from the Spartans’ 22-yard line, Broad Run High School freshman quarterback Mitch Griffis had the weight of Ashburn on his shoulders as the Spartans trailed rival Stone Bridge High School, 7-3, with just over one minute left in the Battle of the Burn on October 14.
The packed Bulldog side of the stadium roared as Griffis took the snap, but the rumble quickly changed sides when Griffis connected with senior running back Meech Hembry at the 50-yard line to convert on the first down. But even more than that, Hembry won the foot race against the Stone Bridge secondary, completing the 78-yard pitch-and-catch as a little late magic made Broad Run “King of the Burn” in a 10-7 come-from-behind win over Stone Bridge.
“It was insane. I loved it. I love everything about this program, everything about this school,” Griffis said. “When you have an athlete like Meech Hembry, you let him do his thing. I just tried to get the ball to him in open space, and he did his thing.”
Hembry – who was held under 100 yards rushing for the first time since the Spartans’ loss to the Bulldogs in a VHSL 5A North region quarterfinal in 2015 – found half of his 170 all-purpose yards in the form of the game-winning catch late in the fourth quarter.
“Mitch put it on the money. He did what he does best,” Hembry said. “That’s what we worked on all week. Our coaches told us that if we were down, to keep our heads up and good things would happen.”
Always a fight between two of the top teams in the state, the 2016 edition of the Battle of the Burn featured early turnovers and missed opportunities for both teams.
Just over a minute into the second quarter, the Spartans fumbled on their own 7-yard line as the Bulldogs pounced on the football, recovering it with great field position. However, on the very next play Stone Bridge coughed the ball up as Broad Run recovered and returned it to their 36-yard line.
“I told them it was going to be a street fight that went down to the very end,” Broad Run head coach Matt Griffis said. “You have no idea how proud I am of our guys. We’re resilient, we never stop fighting, and that’s what Spartans do.”
Then, with five minutes left in the first half, Broad Run senior linebacker Sequan Canales intercepted the Stone Bridge pass and returned it 60 yards down to the Bulldog 10-yard line. While it looked like the Spartans’ luck had changed, they proceeded to fumble and lose a goal line carry two plays later.
While the Broad Run offense struggled to get going, the Spartan defense was superb. Their only real flaw came midway through the first quarter when senior quarterback Easton Turner connected with junior receiver Tyrese Johnson on a 48-yard pass down to the Broad Run 2-yard line. On the next play, Stone Bridge senior running back Bradley Block scored on a direct snap from two yards out giving the Bulldogs a 7-0 advantage.
Stone Bridge did not score for the remaining 43 minutes.
“Our defense played phenomenal. We’ve played great all year,” coach Griffis said. “We take pride in stopping the run. We dominate people when they try to run the ball. Our defense came up huge tonight.”
Broad Run got on the board late in the second quarter when junior kicker Atilla Buri nailed a 26-yard field goal to give the Spartans a little momentum heading into the half.
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The second half was a defensive slugfest with both teams failing to get anything going on offense. It might have been the energy and determination on the Broad Run sideline that gave their offense the edge late.
“It’s special when you’re playing the Battle of the Burn; the energy is a little different. When the stands are already filled up and you haven’t even taken the field for warm ups, you know it’s a big game,” coach Griffis said. “When your kids always know there’s a chance, when they have hope, every game is winnable.”
1Q 7:24 SB Bradley Block 2-yard TD run (Block PAT)
2Q 0:13 BR Atilla Buri 26-yard FG
4Q 1:05 BR Mitch Griffis to Meech Hembry 78-yard TD pass (Buri PAT)