ASHBURN—As he hugged each of the seniors Friday night, Nathan Yates thanked each for assisting in Riverbend High School's quantum leap forward over the past four years.
For a sizeable nucleus of talented underclassmen, Friday's 58–3 drubbing by defending state champion Stone Bridge showed how far the Bears have to go to take the next step.
"They've learned from our seniors, who fought so hard to get us in this position in the first place," Yates said of his sophomores and juniors. "They've tasted it, and now they know what it takes to get us back here."
The Bears (9–3) absorbed a master class lesson from the Bulldogs (12–0), who have won all 21 of their games in this calendar year and will host Mountain View (11–1) in next Friday's Region 5D final.
Stone Bridge shook off one early misstep to play almost flawlessly, averaging nearly 9 yards per offensive snap and intercepting Riverbend's sophomore quarterback Tanner Triplett four times, returning two of the picks for touchdown.
"I don't think you can say anything negative," veteran Stone Bridge coach Mickey Thompson said.
Well, there was one thing. On the game's second play from scrimmage, Bulldogs senior quarterback Jacob Thomas floated a pass down the left sideline that Riverbend's Xavier Edelin intercepted and returned 35 yards to the 14.
The Bears managed just 2 yards on three snaps, but Logan Eastman's 30-yard field goal gave them a 3–0 lead—and some hope.
"We knew we were going to go through a little adversity," Thomas said, adding that the key was "just making sure not to get my confidence down."
If Thomas had any self-doubts, it certainly didn't show. He completed two passes on the Bulldogs' next drive, which was capped by Eli Mason's fourth-down, 1-yard touchdown run.
Thomas also ran for two long touchdowns (52 and 64 yards) on keepers from Stone Bridge's deceptive single-wing formation and threw a 36-yard scoring pass to Colin Hart.
The Bears had no answer, especially with two-way starter Mathias Barnwell sitting out the second half with what Yates described as a lower-body injury.
"We threw the pick early, and that could have set a lot of stuff up," Thompson said. "But our quarterback makes a lot of things look good."
Added Thomas: "We had a couple of flags, a couple of mistakes, but honestly, it was about as close to perfect as possible."
That high standard will be the challenge next Friday for Mountain View, which will be seeking the first regional title in school history. This is pretty routine for the Bulldogs, who have appeared in five of the past seven state championship games in Class 5 or 5A.
"There's a resolve in us," Thompson said. "We've been in 25 straight Thanksgiving Day regional finals. That's what we do, and they're used to that."
The Bears aspire to get to that level. They have plenty of talented players eligible to return next season, including Barnwell (who has committed to Penn State) and Triplett (who threw 19 touchdown passes in his first year as a starter). Juniors Devin Washington, E.J. Wilborne and MarcAnthony Parker are also expected back.
"You cannot take this loss and say it's a definition of our season," Yates said. "Nothing really went our way tonight, but our kids fought to the end. What we do is we look at this and say, 'We were there, we got a taste of it, and now we know the level we have to crank it up a little bit to get to.' "
Rb—Logan Eastman 30 field goal.
SB-Eli Mason 1 run (Dylan Dasterjerdi kick).
SB—Jacob Thomas 52 run (pass failed).
SB—Dasterjerdi 43 field goal.
SB—Zach Laing 21 interception return (Dasterjerdi kick).
SB—Colin Hart 36 pass from Thomas (Dasterjerdi kick).
SB—Dylan Hundertmark 12 run (Dasterjedrdi kick).
SB—Dominic Duncan 53 interception return (Dasterjerdi kick).
SB—Thomas 64 run (Dasterjerdi kick).
SB—Jordan Kaiser 39 pass from Mario Suarez (Connor McLaughlin kick).
RUSHING: Riverbend—Aiden Fisher 11-27; Latavien Dyles 3-5; MarcAnthony Parker 1-(minus 7); Tanner Triplett 2-(minus 16). Stone Bridge—Jacob Thomas 5-130, 2 TDs; Eli Mason 9-49, 1 TD; Dylan Hunterdmark 4-17, 1 TD; Rico Brown 3-10; Micah Smith 1-6; Jordan Kaiser 4-6; Tyson Miller 3-2; Brandon Pena 2-(minus 3).
PASSING: Riverbend—Triplett 9-20-4, 101 yards. Stone Bridge—Thomas 6-10-2, 129 yards, 1 TD; Mari Suarez 2-2-0, 43 yards, 1 TD; Pena 0-1-0.
RECEIVING: Riverbend—Devin Washington 4-39; Fisher 2-20; Mathias Barnwell 1-17; Xavier Edelin 1-15; E.J. Wilborne 1-10. Stone Bridge—Colin Hart 2-78, 1 TD; Jordan Kaiser 1-39, 1 TD; Colton Hinton 1-24; Zeke Winbush 1-11; Doniven Cooper 1-9; Hundertmark 1-7; Krish Sanosh 1-4.
Steve DeShazo: 374-5443