Stafford raises the bar

Not since 1999, when Hylton and Culpeper won state crowns had the Northwest Region been so well represented in the Group AAA championships.

On Saturday in a pair of Group AAA championship games at University of Richmond Stadium, the Northwest Region again moved to the forefront and Stafford County is now on the map.

Hylton, with a 6-0 win over Oakton, became the first team to claim three Division 6 titles since the VHSL went to the two-tiered AAA format in 1986. And even though Stafford fell 39-13 to Phoebus in the Division 5 game, the Indians made great strides of their own.

In the dark and gloomy tunnel that leads to the locker rooms several Stafford seniors tried to look on the bright side after coming so close. As did, Stafford coach Roger Pierce had he walked off the field.

“Its tough to feel good after loss in a game like this, especially after working so hard to get here,” Pierce said. “This group of seniors showed up each and every day ready whether it was the weight room or summer practice. They provided tremendous leadership and I don’t know who and how I will ever replace them.”

The Indians listed Thomas McClelland, Tim Sullivan, Kevin Sullivan and Robert Thompson as its team captains in the VHSL program but fittingly every senior was out on the field for the on-field introductions by the officials. It was 14 in all that played their final game for the Indians including McClelland, Tim Sullivan, Kevin Sullivan, Thompson, Scott Bailey, Jeff Hamilton, Tre’ Chambliss, Chris Hottel, Kenny Haines, Robert Wickline, Nick Colon, Julian Langa, Chris Collins and James Pruitt.

McClelland capped a remarkable season by gaining 154 yards on 32 carries that brought his season totals to an area-best 2,541 yards on 358 carries while adding 27 rushing TDs (30 overall). The three-sport athlete was also named both Commonwealth District and Northwest Region offensive player of the year.

Like the rest of the team, McClelland picked the playoffs to shine. In the three playoff wins, the 5-11, 180-pounder went over the 200-yard mark in each one.

“I can’t say enough about my teammates and how we pulled together, McClelland said. “All the individual stats don’t mean this isn’t a team. I know I wouldn’t be here without the 10 other guys on the field with me on each play.”

His running mate, Tim Sullivan, who pushed 1,000 yard mark for total yards for the season, was the perfect complement to McClelland both on offense and defense. He was the team’s leading tackler, but more importantly, the former tight end became a terrific fullback.

“They were easily the best team we faced all year long,” Sullivan said. “We knew they were ranked number one and it would take a great effort to beat them. I think we did some things right but just didn’t make the big plays.”

Kevin Sullivan and Robert Thompson found their best strides during the playoff run while Chambliss, Hottel, Haines and Colon excelled on defense and Wickline, Collins and Pruitt made up the powerful offensive line. Thompson had a touchdown in the final two games while Sullivan’s up-tempo style provided inspiration and motivation for his teammates.

Each, no matter how larger or how small, played a part in the school’s first region title and state playoff berth.

The good news in Falmouth is 10 will carry that wealth of knowledge, experience and dedication into another sport: Kevin Sullivan (baseball), McClelland (wrestling, track), Hamilton (baseball), Hottel (wrestling), Haines (wrestling), Wickline (track), Colon (basketball), Langa (wrestling), Pruitt (track) and Thompson (swimming, soccer).

“My first year I was on JV and didn’t get a chance to play with a lot of these guys for four years,” said Tim Sullivan. “But when we came together our sophomore year, we just started pushing each other and that picked each one of us up a notch. And we kept pushing each other until we got as far as we could go. Yes, it bad to go out on a losing note but we know he have made a difference here. And we are proud we left it on the field.”

Two of the best things that can be said: is after trailing 19-0, the Indians never gave up and secondly, even though there were some detractors, you got the sense if the two teams met again Stafford would play them even closer. And the Phantoms are definitely the best Division 5 team to come along since Ronald Curry’s Hampton years.

According to Thompson, the Phantoms were a formidable opponent but Stafford started playing its game and went toe-to-toe with them.

“Oh, they were by far the best team we have faced all season,” Thompson said. They had tremendous speed, size and depth. But after we settled down, we knew we could play with them and we began playing with them and finally started taking it to them.”

Thompson, whose father also played at Stafford, also looked into the future.

“I feel like what we have done is built a football program the school should be proud of and hopefully they can take it even higher. I think there’s no question this team has made an impact on the underclassmen. They’ll be ready to hit the weights again real soon because we’re a disciplined team.”

For Stafford County football, the bar has been raised. Since the 24-7 win in the rain at Culpeper in the eighth game of the season, Pierce has been saying “this team is special.”

Over the past four weeks the rest of the state got to find out why.

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