BRIDGEWATER—Ten minutes had passed since his final kneeldown, and Jay Scroggins had negotiated his way through a swarm of well-wishers and back-slappers who made Randolph–Macon’s defenders seem like a bead of curtains.

He had accomplished what he came to this school to do, something few could have envisioned just two years ago, something no Bridgewater quarterback had achieved in 14 years: winning the Old Dominion Athletic Conference title.

And he still had the proof tucked under his right arm: the game

ball that he hadn’t relinquished since the final gun.

“This is the ODAC championship,” Scroggins said. “This is what we’ve been working for since the year started.”

It was fitting, because the fifth-year senior from James Monroe High School’s habit of protecting the ball has had a lot to do with the Eagles’ perch atop the conference for the first time since 2005. In Saturday’s 28–21 victory over R–MC in a matchup of the ODAC’s top two teams, Scroggins threw a pair of touchdown passes without an interception: giving him 22 TDs and just one pick all season.

“When Jay Scroggins walks out of here, everything about the quarterback position will have his name on it, and it’ll say, ‘All-time,’ ” said Mike Clark, Bridgewater’s coach for the past 25 seasons.

“I’ve been around long enough; I’ve had some good players at that position. At any level, that position stirs the drink. I can’t coach experience. I’ve got a man playing quarterback on a college football team.”

That experience (and judgment) have paid off in a 9–0 start and a guaranteed berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs that start later this month.

The Eagles last participated in the postseason in 2005, before some of their current players had even started kindergarten. That season concluded a five-year run that included a 30–0 record in ODAC games and a spot in the 2003 Stagg Bowl, Division III’s national championship game (a 66–0 loss to perennial power Mount Union.)

The next 13 seasons were a mixed bag, though, and Clark called the 2017 season “a dumpster fire” because morale was so low. That marked Scroggins’ second season as Bridgewater’s starting quarterback after he transferred from Division II Shepherd, where he redshirted in 2015.

Said Scroggins: “It felt more like home: the coaches, the environment, the town.”

Scroggins’ first three seasons with Bridgewater were productive but not spectacular: 40 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions, never completing more than 58 percent of his passes.

As a senior, though, he’s turned it up a notch, completing 65.5 percent of his throws for 1,911 yards and a 166.4 efficiency rating, all career bests. He’s thrown for at least two scores in every game this season, and now holds school career records in TD passes (62) and completions (499). He’s 288 yards shy of Jason Lutz’s career yardage mark of 6,327 and should surpass that, either in next Saturday’s regular-season finale against Guilford or in the playoffs.

His rating ranked 19th among Division III quarterbacks entering play Saturday but will drop a bit after his worst statistical day of the season: 9 for 23 for just 98 yards, thanks to several drops by his receivers. But Scroggins will gladly trade a few butterfingers for a trophy.

“Jay’s an awesome leader,” said junior running back Demetreus Jalepes, whose 71-yard touchdown run provided the winning points Saturday. “He’s had his ups and downs, but in a critical moment, I’m a captain, and I listen to him. He knows how to be calm. He’s played in big games like this. His composure never changes, no matter what the moment is.”

“He has the smartest IQ of any player I’ve ever played with in my life. He’s able to break down film, stuff in practice between plays. And by him being so efficient, that’s something we knew he’s always had. I just think we needed the players around him, and that’s what we have this year. It’s awesome to see.

As impressive as those statistics look, none of them measure determination. Generously listed at 5-foot-11 and 213 pounds, Scroggins doesn’t come from quarterback central casting. And to hear Clark tell it, he practiced sparingly last week after taking a shot to the leg in last Saturday’s 35–3 victory over Emory & Henry.

“Jay’s got a Division I arm; he’s just got Division III height,” Clark said. “He’s got that Brett Favre college body. But to me besides having a great arm and using good judgment, he has a level of toughness.”

He’s also got the football. And as long as it’s in his hands, the Eagles will be confident.

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Steve DeShazo: 374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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