South County Reaches First Regional Final With Win Over Stone Bridge
Rector scores twice to help Stallions tame Bulldogs in Ashburn
The gorilla has been cut down to size.
For the first time since 2001, Stone Bridge will not play in a regional championship game thanks to a rousing effort by South County in Ashburn on Friday night.
The Stallions (9-3), winners of nine straight, forced three key turnovers and scored nine points on defense en route to a dominating 25-3 win. They will travel to Arlington next Friday to face Yorktown (12-0) in the regional final.
South County opened the scoring on the Bulldogs’ first drive of the game when Rassaun Goldring was tackled in the end zone after an errant third-down snap from the 10-yard-line. The half ended with the odd score of 2-0, but South County’s fierce hitting on defense showed Stone Bridge (10-2) it was in for a fight.
The Stallions were prepared for Stone Bridge’s tricky single-wing offense and collapsed the pocket with regularity while defensive backs held the wide receivers in check. The Bulldogs scored their fewest points since a season-opening 3-0 win over Robinson.
“I wouldn’t say [we did it] easily,” said Drew Rector, who scored on both offense and defense. “We were just prepared. [Defensive coordinator Adam] Neff is a great coach, we just did our assignments.”
The game turned on Rector’s fourth quarter interception of Stone Bridge quarterback Ryan Burns. Trailing 12-3 with 4 minutes, 35 seconds to play, the Bulldogs had just gotten the ball back after forcing a fumble by South County’s Timmy Hunt. Burns threw a quick slant to the right side that Rector grabbed and returned untouched 30 yards to make it 19-3 and put the game on ice.
“The coaches just sent me out wider and wider as the game went on, and I just read his eyes and made a play on the ball,” said Rector. “We had to get [the ball] back and we sealed the game.”
Neff, who has had full reign to manage the defense under first-year head coach Gerry Pannoni, said Rector had been plotting the interception earlier in the half.
“[Rector] was [aggravating] the coaching staff [earlier in the game] but he was smiling when he came off the field,” Neff said. “We needed one there and he took it.”
Not only did the Stallions handle the passing game of Burns and the Bulldogs, but they stood strong against Stone Bridge’s “jumbo package” which positions 230-pound defensive end Jon Allen as a blocker for thousand-yard rusher Stephen Trivieri. Senior linebacker Devin Vandyke knifed in from the weak side to nab Trivieri in the backfield on a 4th-and-4 from the Stallions’ 16 late in the second quarter.
“We just flat got beat,” said Stone Bridge coach Mickey Thompson. “We didn’t get beat in a few areas. We got beaten in pretty much all aspects of the game. I’ve never been that frustrated. I had no answers for anything. Hats off to them.”
The passing game of Shane Foley was effective when necessary, as was the punting game of Michael Ferguson, whose first kick of the game pinned Stone Bridge inside its five, setting up the safety. Foley scored the Stallions’ first touchdown of the game, after they were trailing 3-2 in the third quarter, on a 1-yard plunge set up by his 34-yard completion to Ferguson a play earlier.
Foley finished with 115 yards passing and 31 yards rushing. His top receivers were Ferguson (35 yards) and Jake Josephs, who had six catches for 61 yards, including a pair of first downs. Rector (130 yards on 13 carries) capped the scoring late in the fourth quarter a few plays after Ryan Taylor intercepted Burns with four minutes to go.
Pannoni, who was named coach just a couple of weeks before preseason practice, said it has been a challenging season.
“I knew there were a whole lot of athletes here,” he said, his grey sweatshirt turned dark after being doused with the contents of a water cooler. “It was just a matter of them getting the job done, and they’ve done a great job.”
Mike Pflugrath, the South County student activities director, who called Friday’s game the biggest football win in the school’s history, said he was sure Pannoni would get the Stallions on a winning course, even after they started the season 0-3.
“I knew he was a winner. But to dream this would be tough,” he said. “I knew there would some growing pains, especially for the offense. But he’s such a hard worker and I believe in what he’s doing.”
Senior lineman J.P. Blake said it was tough for the team to trust Pannoni when he took over with so little time to prepare for the season.
“We were all mad. We didn’t want to do anything with this new coach,” he said. “We finally came together as a team and we told each other – ‘this is our last year, just play and see how far we can go.’ The first couple of games were rocky, but we finally got our groove. We just got tired of losing.”