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The Titans carried a 14-0 lead into halftime, then scored first in the second half to take a 20-0 lead before the Northern Region champion Bulldogs stormed back with two scores of their own to cut the lead to one touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Late in the contest, Stone Bridge drove into the Lake Taylor red zone but, with 20 seconds remaining, a blitzing Brandon Moore stripped the ball carrier near the line of scrimmage, where teammate Jamel Spellman fell on the loose pigskin to secure the Division Five state championship for the Eastern Region Titans who finished the season with a perfect 15-0 mark.
"We were hitting them and we were aggressive," said Lake Taylor head coach Hank Sawyer. "They were taking some hits and kept coming back. When the ball popped out, we had two or three guys scrambling for it, and I sprinted on down the field because I knew we were State Championship. It was just an awesome, unreal, unbelievable feeling."
VirginiaPreps.com's coverage of the game:
See Rod Johnson's photo feature of the contest with 115 images
See Matthew Hatfield's Live Game Blog
See Tom Garrett's video package with 4 minutes of highlights
Stone Bridge post-game press conference
Lake Taylor post-game press conference
Official Box Score from STATVA
Offensive Player of the Game: Lake Taylor QB Delmon Williams
The junior quarterback and All-Eastern Region First Team selection for the Titans connected on 13 of 15 passes for 160 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in leading Lake Taylor to its first-ever state title. Williams completed all nine of his passes in the first half. Perhaps his best moment of the game didn't come with his arm, but rather on the move: He was able to use his legs to keep a play that looked like a sure sack alive, turning it into an 11-yard first down in the fourth quarter with Stone Bridge trying to rally.
"I thought that was a big play and the best defense against a Stone Bridge is for you to be on offense," said Lake Taylor Head Football Coach Hank Sawyer on the flip play by Williams, escaping pressure from two defenders, including Jon Allen for a completion of 11 yards to Brandon 'Pork Chop' Moore.
"I always get on him to try to show emotion, but I guess that's a good thing not to show any emotion so the other team can't see what he's thinking. He can make all the throws and he made them today, the guys caught them and it was just a team effort. As big as that team was, we went against an All-American today, Gatorade State Player of the Year, and the line held him off long enough for Delmon to make the throws."
Defensive Player of the Game: Lake Taylor LB Jamel Spellman
The co-Eastern District Defensive Player of the Year, Spellman is the guy that makes all the calls defensively for the Titans from his middle linebacker position and a definite senior leader for Lake Taylor. He finished with 13 tackles, eight solo stops, a sack, and recovered the fumble to seal the deal with 20 seconds remaining and Stone Bridge driving for a potential game-winning touchdown.
"In the last time-out they called, Spellman and Pork Chop kept saying let's hang in there and let's keep doing what we're doing. We've got them Coach," said Sawyer in the post-game press conference.
Regarding the game-sealing play, Spellman said, "Our goal was to key the fullback. When I seen him to go to our right, which is their left, I sprinted over there as fast as I can. I tried to make the tackle, saw the ball pop up and I just ran for it and dove."
"Our defense plays together. No matter how many people you've got in the backfield, we're going to come. Whoever's got the ball, they're going to get hit," said Spellman regarding the 2012 Lake Taylor defense.
A third-and-a-mile Delmon Williams pump-fake for a 68-yard touchdown to Jakale Pinkney allowed the Titans to draw first blood, taking a 7-0 lead with 2:45 to go in the first half. This was an especially important play because Lake Taylor hadn't moved the ball against Stone Bridge up to that point. After getting a couple of first downs, the bad snap that set up the third-and-long looked like it might doom the Titans to another punt. Yet, this game-changing play not only put the Titans on the board, but it also swung all the momentum to Lake Taylor.
On the very next possession, Stone Bridge tried to punt out of a normal offensive ("quick kick"-type) formation instead of dropping Burns deep, and the result was a blocked kick that gave Lake Taylor the ball deep inside Stone Bridge territory. The Titans quickly cashed in again with another touchdown pass, this time from Williams to Nhyre Quinerly, giving Lake Taylor a two-score lead at the break in a game that had been a major defensive battle up.
To see the big play: http://vmedia.rivals.com/uploads/914/1339671.wmv
Said Williams about the big play, "When I faked it to Jalyn [Holmes] and saw him [Pinkney] run past, I knew he was wide open. I didn't want to overthrow them. They were putting the safety way on the other hash. They were jumping the bubble [screen]. That got momentum for the offense and the defense because we were struggling to score at first."
The receiver, who dropped a sure touchdown pass in the state semifinal contest, wanted his redemption in the title game. "The last game I had dropped a second touchdown pass but I told Coach I had his back next time."Keys to the Game:
1. Stone Bridge fumbles: Mickey Thompson pointed to the Bulldogs putting the ball on the ground four times as a major disruption to the Stone Bridge offensive flow. Indeed, the two fumbles lost by the Bulldogs proved costly. This was an uncharacteristic game for Stone Bridge in this regard, as the Bulldogs normally execute with near-flawless precision.
"I thought that everything we thought we were going to get we got," said Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson. "There weren't any surprises. We mishandled the ball way too much on offense, too many balls on the ground got us behind so it made it hard to make it up. In the end again, it was the ball on the ground that was the end of the game for us."
2. Special teams momentum-changers: Two big plays on special teams helped make a difference in the outcome of the game. First, the blocked or tipped punt that gave Lake Taylor great field position late in the second quarter and allowed the Titans to put a second score on the board with just 15 seconds to go in the half. Secondly, a punt return fumbled by Rassaun Goldring that gave Lake Taylor another short field and led immediately to the 11-yard Daquan Davis touchdown that provided the Titans with their eventual winning score.
Thompson noted, "You come into a game like this you know you can't put the ball on the ground and have miscues. We had the fumble on the kickoff return that gave them the touchdown, and on the kick I think Ryan just missed it a little bit, plus he got a little penetration. Those two plays really hurt us."
3. The dynamic play of Delmon Williams: Williams had a solid game, throwing for 160 yards and two touchdowns on a very efficient 13-of-15 day. His improvisational skills allowed him to avoid the Bulldog pass rush and occasionally make a positive out of a negative, such as when an impromptu lateral to Brandon Moore created a net difference of about 20 yards on one play.Stone Bridge Season Wrap Up
After winning the regional titles for four consecutive seasons from 2007-2010, Stone Bridge was elminated from the 2011 postseason in a 25-3 loss to South County that some considered the death knell of the Bulldogs' stranglehold on the Northern Region Division Five title.Coach Mickey Thompson and his crew saw it differently. They got hungrier than ever.
It showed through the regular season as the Bulldogs won all ten games that they played by at least two touchdowns scoring at least 27 points in every game while holding all but one opponent to 14 or fewer points. Essentially, the Stone Bridge Bulldogs had regained their swagger.
They opened the postseason with back-to-back wins over Edison and Langley but found themselves trailing Yorktown 29-7 in the regional title game before they ripped off 55 unanswered points en route to a 69-50 victory which led to a state semifinal contest against Central Region champion Hanover, whom they topped 28-21.
Appearing in their fifth state championship game since 2005, Stone Bridge, who captured the title in 2007, fell for the fourth time to an Eastern Region team by making one too many mistakes.
Said Thomson, "I'll be honest, we talked about playing Phoebus from day one and nobody we played did we really worry about. When we played the other teams, all we said was we're getting ready for Phoebus. And then when Phoebus wasn't there, we were getting ready for Lake Taylor. It's the same type of team. We've got to play to that speed. We put it out there from day one and we were here, it just didn't happen again."
Lake Taylor Season Wrap Up
Lake Taylor carried a 17-7 lead into the fourth quarter of the 2011 Eastern Region Division Five championship game against Phoebus. However, the Phantoms scored ten unanswered points, including a game-winning field goal as time expired, breaking the Titans' hearts in the process The loss may have strengthened the resolve of the 2012 Titans as internally they vowed not to fall to the Phantoms (or to anyone else) again this season.
The Titans opened the season as the #3-ranked team in the state in Divison Five behind both #1 Phoebus and #2 Stone Bridge but a 51-0 victory over 8-3 Bethel in the second week seemed to announce that the group was ready for bigger and better things this year. Though they were pushed hard by a 9-2 Granby squad in a 27-25 victory that the Titans won on the last play of the game, the Titans essentially cruised to a perfect 10-0 regular season by winning every other game by at least three touchdowns.
The Lake Taylor cruise continued through the regional postseason by winning their three contests by a combined score of 151 to 7 setting up a date with Northwest Region champion North Stafford on the road, a game that the Titans won with a field goal with six seconds left on the clock capturing a 23-21 victory.
"North Stafford was tough for us going there. Being able to embrace the five weeks after the regular season was over, it's a challenge within itself, trust me," noted Sawyer.
The Titans' season of destiny was tested right up until the final seconds of the Division Five title game when their defense made a play that will live in Norfolk lore. The Lake Taylor resolve was tested and they were found worthy of being champions.
Said the estatic Sawyer after the game, "It got a little bit emotional for me because you don't hear love on the football field very much. But it's an awesome love. To see young people lay down, play hard and fight for you, it's just amazing."
Lake Taylor's Motivation
"We saw a video about a month ago and he talked about you've to want to win a Championship more than you want breath in your body, more than you want to eat. We saw that video and we've embraced it," said Sawyer. "That was my pre-game talk. It wasn't about 38-40 players anymore or the ten coaches. It was about when I looked up in pre-game warm-up and saw those people that came from Norfolk. You've got to want it for them, for your fans, your parents."
Motivational video referenced by Lake Taylor head coach Hank Sawyer
This report was compiled with contributions from Matthew Hatfield, Rod Johnson and Tom Garrett.