Ashburn, Va. — For the third time in four years, the Stone Bridge High School football team is heading to the VHSL 5A State championship. After cruising past rival Broad Run in the VHSL Region 5C championship, the North Stafford Wolverines were all that stood between the Bulldogs and their eighth trip to a state championship game.
And on a cold, damp December 1, Stone Bridge senior running back Nick Mell rushed for five touchdowns as the Bulldogs ran past the Wolverines, 49-26, in front of a home crowd in Ashburn.
“We’re getting better every week, and we just have to keep taking it one week at a time,” Stone Bridge senior defensive back Payton Hunter said. “It just feels amazing because it’s all paying off.”
On the first possession of the game, Stone Bridge asserted itself on offense, marching 60 yards on just eight plays before Mell capped off the drive with his first touchdown run of the afternoon. Then, six minutes later, Mell added his second rushing touchdown, opening the Bulldogs’ lead to 14-0.
Despite a valiant goal line effort by the Stone Bridge defense – which saw junior back Jared Cole exit the game with an injury – North Stafford finally got on the board early in the second quarter. After back-to-back-to-back goal line stops, North Stafford junior quarterback Jamir Boyd connected with senior running back Devyn Ford on a 2-yard touchdown pass.
“We were rolling. We had all of our sets and all our rotations, and then, Jared Cole went down,” Stone Bridge head coach Mickey Thompson said. “We had a contingency plan that we were going to play two quarterbacks, and Mason Tatum would have to go to full back, and we would just make do. We didn’t practice it much, but at least we had a plan.”
The Wolverines’ momentum, however, was short lived as the contingency plan paid off, and Mell ran for another touchdown just two minutes later, putting Stone Bridge up 21-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Bulldogs elected to attempt an onside kick which they recovered, setting up a drive and eventually Mell’s fourth touchdown run of the first half.
“We were able to control the game with the offensive line,” Thompson said. “The fact that we could run the ball and continue to find some seams was big, because if they would have shut down the run, we would have had no answer.”
Following the touchdown run, Stone Bridge was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving North Stafford good field position with less than three minutes left in the first half. The Wolverines capitalized on the Bulldog mistake, when Boyd carried in 1-yard touchdown just before the half.
The Wolverines came out the locker room riding the wave of momentum they carried into halftime. With eight minutes left in the third quarter, North Stafford senior defensive back Isaiah Watts recovered a fumble at the Stone Bridge 35. Two plays later, North Stafford sophomore running back Shawn Asberry went for a 1-yard touchdown run to pull the Wolverines within 8.
“We had trouble tackling all day long. It didn’t matter who had the ball,” Thompson said. “They’re really talented.”
Stone Bridge put the game out of reach late in the fourth quarter when Mell rumbled 40 yards downfield for his fifth and final touchdown run of the game.
The Bulldogs really put the game on ice on the ensuing drive, when Hunter recovered a fumble and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown.
“When the ball came out, it surprised me. I was looking and didn’t see it anywhere, then it just popped up,” Hunter said. “When I was running to the end zone, I just started thinking ‘Wow, we’re going to the state [championship].’”
After a one-year hiatus, Stone Bridge has once again earned a chance to play for the VHSL 5A State championship. On December 8, the Bulldogs will travel to Hampton University to battle well-known adversary Highland Springs – a team that ended Stone Bridge’s state title hopes in both 2015 and 2016 – in hopes of winning the program’s second ever state championship.
“We have more talent this year,” Mell said. “We just need to make sure we play as a team.”
1Q 8:37 SB Nick Mell 5-yard TD run (Baron PAT)
1Q 2:38 SB Nick Mell 6-yard TD run (Baron PAT)
2Q 9:57 NS Jamir Boyd to Devyn Ford 2-yard TD pass (Hicks PAT)
2Q 7:34 SB Nick Mell 1-yard TD run (Baron PAT)
2Q 2:26 SB Nick Mell 4-yard TD run (Baron PAT)
2Q 0:39 NS Jamir Boyd 1-yard TD run (PAT missed)
3Q 7:40 NS Shawn Asberry 1-yard TD run (Hicks PAT)
4Q 11:55 SB Mason Tatum 2-yard TD run (Baron PAT)
4Q 4:44 NS Jamir Boyd 9-yard TD run (2pt failed)
4Q 3:32 SB Nick Mell 40-yard TD run (Baron PAT)
4Q 2:59 SB Payton Hunter 53-yard fumble return TD (Baron PAT)