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Getting beaten for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, the Skyhawks rebounded from the 7-0 deficit with a touchdown of their own after a lengthy drive, only to watch the Dolphins retake the lead with a second-quarter field goal. Bird responded again, this time with a 67-yard touchdown run from Paul Robertson that gave the Skyhawks a 14-10 halftime lead.
Though the second half lacked a score, it didn't lack drama. With 4:22 remaining in the contest, Ocean Lakes took possession of the ball on the Bird 40-yard line after a Javohni Simmons interception.
Driving to the Bird 11-yard line, Ocean Lakes faced a fourth-and-one situation, but the Skyhawks defense got the stop and won the day when Brandon Walker knifed into the backfield to cut down Brandon Simmons for no gain, securing the Richmond-area power's first state championship and a perfect 14-0 season.
See Rod Johnson's photo feature of the contest with 108 images
See Matthew Hatfield's Live Game Blog
See Tom Garrett's video package with three and a half minutes of highights
Ocean Lakes post-game press conference
L.C. Bird post-game press conference
Divsion Six box score from STATVA
Offensive Player of the Game: L.C. Bird RB Paul Robertson
Capping an unbelievable postseason, Robertson rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns on 27 attempts, putting L.C. Bird ahead with a 67-yard scamper with 5:57 remaining in the first half. For the season, Robertson finished up with 33 touchdowns and 2936 yards rushing, fourth in VHSL history and tops among all Group AAA players.
"I would venture to say one of the best four game runs in the history of Virginia High School Football. Over 1000 yards in four games, and 400, 300, 200, and 179 and two touchdowns against a very good defense today," said L.C. Bird head coach David Bedwell.
"What sticks out to me is Paul being durable, playing all year long. When you're the tailback at Bird, it's like being the fullback at other places. You're going to get the crap knocked out of you all year long, carry the ball 30-40 times a game and I just thought Paul did a great job."
The senior running back summed up the team effort that allowed him to put up such big numbers. "It's overwhelming. The four-game run was about how bad we wanted it. The o-line stayed on me, we stayed on each other and we always watched film. We knew we were close, and it was our last year, so we had to make a decision if we wanted it or not. It was an amazing run for us. It's a blessing to be here and actually win a state championship."
Defensive Player of the Game: L.C. Bird OLB Brandon Walker
Playing outside linebacker and safety in kind of a rover role this year for the Skyhawks, Walker was the game's leading tackler with 11 stops, two behind the line of scrimmage, a pair of pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. With Ocean Lakes knocking on the door at the Bird 11-yard line with under two minutes to play, Walker was in on the tackle on fourth-and-1 to help bring home the school's first state title.
"The whole drive, they were running hurry-up, so they were in the same formation and were kind of running the same play. On the previous runs, I was looking for the quarterback to keep it. I'm outside linebacker, so I've got to contain the outside. When it was fourth and inches, I kind of blitzed, which really wasn't what I was supposed to do, but I took that chance," Walker stated.
"We know that because we're a senior-heavy defense that this was our last game, so we knew we had to fight."
With the Skyhawks clinging to a four-point lead with a little over a minute to play, and with Ocean Lakes' rushing attack having become much more effective in the second half, the Dolphins lined up on a fourth-and-one at the Bird 11-yard-line. It was a do-or-die play, and Brandon Walker knifed through to the point-of-attack, upending Brandon Simmons for no gain and effectively ending the game.
The Skyhawks picked up a couple of first downs via Paul Robertson runs, and a couple of more through unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against Ocean Lakes, and that was it. Terrance Ervin kneeled twice, and Bird's first-ever state championship in school history was secure.
To see the big play: http://vmedia.rivals.com/uploads/914/1339670.wmv
"There at the end, we come up inches short, those guys dug in and made a great play," said Ocean Lakes' head coach Chris Scott, "I definitely thought we'd pick up that last first down. We had a problem with #7 [Brandon Walker] blitzing off the edge. We're going to run left, run behind this big guy right here [Alex Skidmore], pull around and that's what we've done all year and been very successful with it, but then that guy knifed in off the edge and made a great play."
Keys to the Game:
1. Keeping composure: The Skyhawks easily could have had a let-down after Ocean Lakes shocked them with a 77-yard double-pass for a touchdown on the game's opening play from scrimmage. Instead, Bird responded with a 12-play, 72-yard drive that ate up over seven minutes and culminated with a three-yard scoring run from Paul Robertson. That helped set the tone for the game, showing that Bird wasn't going to melt under the bright lights of Scott Stadium. Ocean Lakes managed only three more points the rest of the way.
Ocean Lakes' head coach Chris Scott on the opening part of the game, "We score on the first play of the game, everyone's excited and it's a great way to start a game. They got after it, dug in and we were able to move the ball a little bit and then penalties set us back. They dug in on defense, made some big plays and do a great job of getting pressure with their front four, twisting and pinching to give us problems up front."
Bedwell was proud of the way that his kids responded. "I thought our kids stayed the course. They had a big play the very first play of the game and you're kind of shell-shocked when that happens. You've got to get yourself together and still do what we do. We answered with a nice long drive, so we knew we were in the ballgame, and I thought our kids from there settled down. They've got a lot of big-time playmakers on that football team over there and thought the kids did a great job of shutting them down."
2. Controlling the line of scrimmage: Probably the biggest key, Bird was able to keep Ocean Lakes' oustanding defensive line at bay. Although Derrick Nnadi and Demetri McGill made their share of plays, the Skyhawks dictated the flow of the game up front, paving the way for another great game from Robertson. A concern coming in, Bird was able to neutralize the Dolphins' greatest strength for a majority of the game, allowing Robertson to complete perhaps the greatest four-game playoff run in VHSL history.
"I thought our offensive line played really well. That's the best defensive line we've gone against all year long and thought they made good adjustments and played really hard all throughout the game. I thought we wore them down in the fourth quarter a little bit," said Bedwell. "When you look at our offensive line, their moms hate me for saying it, but they're like the island of misfit toys. You've got one that runs like Fred Sanford and you've got another one who walks with a limp, but let me tell you what, those kids scrapped, claw and do everything they can. They're a very physical group off football players."
3. Defense stepping up: The Skyhawk defense had been phenomenal during the regular season, allowing a region-best 47 points through ten games. After allowing no more than ten points in any game, however, Bird had allowed 20, 27, and 17 against tough playoff competition. Needing their best game of the season against Ocean Lakes, the Skyhawks got it, giving up only 10 points to a team that had scored 573 during the prior 14 contests.
Ocean Lakes Season Wrap Up
Qualifying for the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons in 2011, the Dolphins clearly had established themselves as one of the power brokers in the Eastern Region among Division Six programs. However, with Salem (2006), Bayside (2010) and Oscar Smith (2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011) combining to win the last six regional titles, Ocean Lakes looked like a talented team stuck in an insanely deep region incapable of capturing the crown.
All that changed in this season, however, as the Dolphins raised their game to a new level by sweeping through the Beach District undefeated, topping both Salem and Bayside along the way. The group pitched six shutouts during the regular season, and the only team that managed to lose by less than two touchdowns was Salem.
Though they lost starting quarterback Corwin Cutler early in the postseason, the Dolphins were not to be denied, topping Granby 34-3, Western Branch 41-20, and Oscar Smith 14-10 to win the regional title. They followed that up with a 21-14 victory over Northwest Champion Hylton in the state semifinals to advance to the title game for a battle of undefeateds with L.C. Bird.
Though they put themselves into position to win the contest, ultimately, their own miscues and the timely plays by a powerful L.C. Bird team left them standing in the runners-up spot.
L.C. Bird Season Wrap Up
From 2006-2009, L.C. Bird advanced to the postseason, only to be felled in the opening round. That run of playoff frustration came on the heels of three consecutive Central Region championships in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
Then, in each of the past two seasons, the Skyhawks were elminated from the playoffs at the regional championship level, as the Hermitage Panthers bested them in back-to-back tight games in 2010 and 2011.
Advancing through the regular season undefeated, Bird played a dominating brand of football that saw them score 33 or more points in eight of ten contests while never allowing more than ten points.
Yet, with nine minutes left in their regional semifinal game against Hermitage, the Skyhawks found themselves trailing 20-10 and time running out on their season. Two touchdowns in the game's waning moments led to a 24-20 win and a date with Varina in the regional finals. Bird topped the Blue Devils 36-27.
A 41-17 blowout of Northern Region champion Oakton followed a week later, with Robertson setting the state record for most rushing yardage in a playoff game. The Skyhawks then collected their school's first state championship by playing "Bird football," which is a combination of power-running, hard-nosed blocking, and swarming, hard-hitting defense.
"Once we got into the playoffs, I really think was the time that they buckled down and time they really started thinking we've got a chance to do something," said Bedwell. "We got past that first one at Hermitage and everyone's eyes kind of opened and we said maybe we do have a shot. We just played one of the better teams in the state and played a good game. That had been the big speed bump in the road the past couple years and thought we had played well against them, but didn't have whatever it took to get over the hump. The next week you play Varina and it's a track meet, and then went up to Oakton and just really dominated a football game."
The "Bird Way" of football might not capture the hearts and minds of a generation growing up with high-speed internet and video game offenses, but it, along the with hard work of the members of the 2012 squad, captured victories in all fourteen games that they played this season en route to becoming the Division Six state champions.
Commented Bedwell, "That was the one piece I think was missing from our football program forever, going back to 1978 when the school opened. The success they've had throughout the years, 23 district Championships, 12 in a row, six regional titles, played in a State Final in '91. There's always been that empty spot on the banner on our fieldhouse inside the gym. We played good football at Bird and we're very proud of our football program and tradition there. We just thought that's been the one thing that was missing. That banner's going to look real good and those stickers are going to look real good, so we're excited."
The Winning Effect
As much as any program in the state, L.C. Bird has branded itself with a style of football marked by a physical running attack and hard-nosed play on both sides of the ball.
Outsiders also had a label for the Skyhawk brand -- "the best to never win it all." Saturday's championship wiped away that knock and changed the core of people who've spent their lives following the storied program.
Want proof? Read the excellent post linked below...
Matt Gilliam sums up the L.C. Bird football experience
This report was compiled with contributions from Matthew Hatfield, Rod Johnson, and Tom Garrett.