After Stone Bridge claimed its second-ever Virginia 5A football state championship this past May, the Bulldogs coaching staff put out an e-mail announcing they had an opening in their schedule for this fall.
Most teams quickly passed on the opportunity to play Stone Bridge, mainly because the Bulldogs have become one of the best teams in Class 5A after making 10 appearances in the state championship game since 2005 (their other title came in 2007).
But Freedom-Woodbridge head coach Darryl Overton decided to take a chance. He accepted Stone Bridge’s invitation to play this fall, and the result was one of the most entertaining games high school football fans could hope to witness.
Stone Bridge used its powerful single-wing offense to light up the scoreboard en route to a 10-point lead at halftime, then held off a strong Freedom rally in the second half to defeat the Eagles, 38-35, on Friday at F.H. Furr Field in Ashburn.
The Bulldogs (3-0) rolled up 307 yards rushing as senior running backs Dylan Hundertmark and Eli Mason each rushed for more than 100 yards and combined for three touchdowns. For Freedom (2-1), senior Davis Bryson had a huge night as he had a hand in all five Eagles touchdowns, rushing for three and passing for two.
Both offenses showed their might in the first half. Freedom scored on three of its five possessions while amassing 323 yards of total offense, but Stone Bridge piled up 308 yards as it scored on all five of its possessions.
Bryson got the Eagles off to a good start as he led them to an opening score. On third down and 10 from his own 15-yard line, he completed a 43-yard pass to senior Siyah Smith, then Bryson went the final 47 yards on a sprint up the middle to give Freedom a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the contest.
“He’s been playing well for us,” Freedom head coach Darryl Overton said of Bryson, who rushed for 139 yards and completed 17-of-28 passes for 277 yards. “We haven’t really been running him much, but he showed tonight he’s a dynamic runner and can make the plays.”
Stone Bridge only needed one play to tie the score as Hundertmark (nine rushes, 133 yards) broke through the left side of the line and went 53 yards for a touchdown.
Freedom answered with a 10-play, 73-yard drive to the Stone Bridge 11, but the Eagles turned the ball over on downs. The Bulldogs proceeded to go 89 yards in nine plays to take the lead on a 19-yard run by senior quarterback Jacob Thomas (13 rushes, 65 yards).
Stone Bridge made it 21-7 in the opening minute of the second quarter as Hundertmark went around left end for a 29-yard score, but Freedom responded with a 14-play, 90-yard scoring drive capped by Bryson’s 6-yard run.
“We pride ourselves on running a spread offense with RPO (run/pass options) and the quarterback making good decisions,” Overton said. “People have to decide if they are going to cover us or pack the box, and then we try to adjust accordingly. We felt like we got some success on the perimeter.”
The teams traded scores once again to keep the margin within seven points, but the Bulldogs got a 25-yard field goal from junior kicker Dylan Dastejerdi just before halftime for a 31-21 advantage.
“I knew we could move the ball in the single-wing, but I also wanted to get into the spread more,” Stone Bridge head coach Mickey Thompson said. “We were so good early on that we got stagnant a little bit and forgot about that. We thought we had everything we wanted until the second half.”
That second half was dramatically different from the first. Freedom made several adjustments on defense and limited Stone Bridge to just 92 total yards over the final 24 minutes, with Mason (22 rushes, 115 yards) scoring the only Bulldogs touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 38-28 lead.
“We knew things were going to get tighter and tougher in the second half,” Thompson said. “Then we started putting the ball on the ground. But we escaped and we’ll learn from that.”
“What Stone Bridge runs (on offense) makes you be disciplined, and we weren’t being disciplined early on,” Overton said. “The guys kind of hunkered down and saw what they were doing and realized the coaches were right. We have a lot of growing up still to do, but I’m proud of their effort.”
Bryson’s second touchdown pass, a 72-yard completion over the top of the defense to sophomore Kameron Courtney (six catches, 126 yards), got Freedom within 38-35 with 7 minutes, 44 seconds left in the game. And when the Eagles defense forced Stone Bridge to turn the ball over on downs with 3:12 to play, they had a chance for an upset victory.
But it was not meant to be. Bryson connected with Courtney to convert a fourth down play and keep the drive alive, but a pass originally called a catch was overturned to an incompletion on fourth down with 14 seconds left at the Stone Bridge 30.
When it was all over, both coaches were satisfied they had made the right choice to play each other.
“Back in the summer, my (athletic director) asked me ‘do you want to play Stone Bridge?’ and I said ‘Heck yeah!” Overton said. “We have a lot of young kids playing and you want to be in this type of environment against that type of team and that type of coaching staff. Iron sharpens iron. Of course we want to win and be on the other side (of the score), but we have a lot of good to take from this and move forward.”
“We just want to keep getting better,” Thompson said. “We know Highland Springs (which Stone Bridge has faced in the state championship four times in the past six years) is out there.
”(Freedom) has a lot of the same characteristics and play like they do. We want to play the best teams we can find and they are a great football team. They play hard and I have all the respect in the world for their kids. It’s a class program and they were a good test for us.”