During the second half of the Group AAA, Division 5 state championship game between Stafford and Phoebus, the Indians band played the Superman theme song, an appropriate one for their do-it-all senior Thomas McClelland.
However, it was the Phantoms sophomore running back Elan Lewis who was the only player with a red cape and an ‘S’ on his chest Saturday. Lewis carried the ball 23 times for 225 yards and scored three touchdowns in Phoebus’ 39-13 victory over Stafford.
Lewis said he wasn’t trying to upstage anyone on his field, including the Phantoms’ highly-touted fullback/linebacker Xavier Adibi. He was just doing his job.
“I just love the game of football,” Lewis said. “I love everything about the game and I came in here and did what I loved to do.”
Bill Dee, who coached the Phantoms to a second straight state title on Saturday, said Lewis’ versatility has been a key to Phoebus’ success. When Adibi went down with a knee sprain at the start of the season, the Phantoms (14-0) were forced to use Lewis at fullback on many occasions. As fullback and tailback, he had at least one carry of 30 yards or more every game and finished the 2002 season with 1,866 yards in 14 games.
“Even at fullback, he could take a trap and run 80, 90 yards with it,” Dee said. “And he’s as good a blocker as [the 6-3, 225-pound] Adibi.”
McClelland once again put on a show but could not pull his team through for the win. The Indians workhorse carried the ball 32 times for 154 yards, passed for 26 yards and a touchdown and added 33 yards on kickoff returns. But big plays were the key on Saturday and the Indians could not prevent them. The Phantoms scored touchdowns on six of their eight possessions, including a 60-yard scamper by Lewis in the second quarter and a back-breaking 51-yarder run by Lewis with 7:21 left in the third that gave Phoebus a 25-13 lead.
“They had a couple of long runs and we’ve got to stop those things, especially against a team like that,” McClelland said. “And we didn’t do it.”
Big plays aside, McClelland had nothing to be ashamed of this season. The senior running back shook off a deep bone bruise that forced him to miss the final quarter of the semifinal win over Hopewell to almost single-handedly carry his team to the state title. He finished the season with 2,535 yards and 27 touchdowns to lead the Indians to their most successful season in school history. Stafford (11-3) made it to the playoffs just once before, a 44-8 loss to E.C. Glass in the 1994 Northwest Region semifinals.
“To play like he did today [with an leg injury], he’s as tough as they come,” Dee said. “Whatever accolades he gets down the road, in college, on top of what he’s got already, he deserves them.”
“He does everything for us,” Stafford coach Roger Pierce added.
Asked to describe his performance, McClelland instead chose to praise his teammates.
“Our whole team, we’re not the biggest and not the fastest, but we’ve got the biggest heart,” said McClelland.
“The kids left it out on the field,” said Pierce. “We didn’t do everything we wanted to do but they gave a great effort.”