A 41-point defeat to the four-time defending Class 5 state champions didn’t create a crisis for the North Stafford football team.
The Wolverines knew what to expect when they faced Highland Springs on Sept. 20, so the 54–13 setback didn’t deter them.
North Stafford had its mettle tested three more times in the regular season.
The Wolverines fell to Mountain View 34–26 on Oct. 4. Two weeks later they struggled in a 24–6 defeat to Colonial Forge and later Massaponax dispatched them, 28–13.
However, the Wolverines never got down on themselves.
North Stafford avenged its loss to Mountain View with a 21–10 victory last Saturday in the Region 5D championship game.
That set up a trip to Stone Bridge (11–1) Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Class 5 state semifinals
The Wolverines (9–4) are attempting to play for a state title for the first time since 2004. In that year, they fell 34–27 to Manchester in the Group AAA, Division 5 state championship game.
“This team is really marked by its resiliency,” North Stafford first-year head coach Neil Sullivan said. “They never hang their heads. They always had confidence that we’d get better and fix things. The way our guys have responded to adversity is something we’re really, really proud of.”
North Stafford is the only one of 24 teams remaining in the Virginia High School League playoffs with four losses.
But one reason the Wolverines never despaired is the strength of their schedule. Highland Springs didn’t suffer its first loss since the opening week of 2017 until the Region 5B semifinals. The Springers fell to Varina 27–21 to end a 40-game winning streak.
Colonial Forge is still playing and will visit Oscar Smith Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Class 6 semifinals. Massaponax reached the Region 6B title game before falling to Colonial Forge last week.
And Mountain View was in the 5D title contest against the Wolverines.
North Stafford defeated Region 4B finalist Dinwiddie 33–29 on Sept. 13.
“We looked at all those games and recognized how good those teams are and identified the things we could’ve done better,” Sullivan said. “Up until last week four teams that we played or scrimmaged were still playing. So we feel like our regular-season schedule prepared us for this.”
Despite that preparedness, Stone Bridge represents a big test. The Bulldogs are paced offensively by senior running back Jared Cole, a three-star recruit who has orally committed to the University of Massachusetts.
The Bulldogs handled North Stafford 49–26 in the state semifinals last season. Stone Bridge went on to the state championship where it lost to Highland Springs, 37–26.
Stone Bridge is coached by veteran Mickey Thompson, who has directed the program since its inception 19 years ago. He’s won more than 200 games in his career. Last season, Stone Bridge became the fastest program to reach that milestone in VHSL history.
The Bulldogs have won 48 playoff games under Thompson, including the 2007 Division 5 state championship.
“What concerns me is that they’re a well-coached team,” North Stafford senior quarterback Jamir Boyd said. “They just move well [defensively] and they attack the ball really well.”
The Bulldogs’ single-wing offensive attack is also a concern. But the Wolverines believe they’re equipped for an offensive shootout if necessary.
Boyd has passed for 3,118 yards and 31 touchdowns. Senior receiver Holt Egan has topped the 1,000-yard mark. Fellow receiver Javon Swinton is an Indiana commit with 800 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing two games.
The Wolverines plan to shift tailback Shawn Asbury to receiver Saturday with the hopes of creating more mismatches in the passing game.
Sophomore running back Tevin White is a receiving threat out of the backfield.
“They’ve lost a lot of players in their defensive backfield [from last year’s meeting],” Boyd said. “So we should be able to attack them through the air.”
That type of confidence has never wavered.
After the loss to Highland Springs, Swinton gave a fiery speech to his teammates reminding them it’s a long season.
His words have now come to fruition, as the Wolverines used lessons from that game and others to propel them to this point.
“We know that even if we’re playing the best team in the state we just have to go out and play our game,” Asbury said. “After the Highland Springs game, our leaders came out, picked up some of the younger players and encouraged people to step up and play key roles.”