Stafford football: Fairy tale gets another chapter


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STAFFORD The Stafford High School football team, making only its second appearance in the Northwest Region football playoffs, looked like the seasoned veterans on Friday night.

The unflappable Indians rambled for 202 yards in the second half and two touchdowns and came away with a 14-6 win over Culpeper in a Division 5 regional championship game played in the swirling wind and cold at Lloyd Busch Stadium.

Strangely, Culpeper, making its seventh straight playoff appearance, showed the early-game jitters by fumbling the ball three times in the game’s first 19 minutes.

After three missed opportunities in the red zone in the first half, the Indians didn’t waver one iota from their game plan of running the football. They gained a reasonable 105 yards on the ground in the first half and then the offensive line took control, like it did in the regular season.

It was without question the biggest victory in Stafford football history.

“This is a special bunch of young men,” Stafford coach Roger Pierce said. “We weren’t really sure what we had coming in this year. But we made certain to not make mistakes and we just kept getting better and better and now we are two games into the playoffs and playing even better.”

At the crux of the 307 total rushing yards was senior Thomas McClelland. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder carried the ball 46 times for 215 yards and a TD. Running mate Tim Sullivan, a 6-0, 191-pound senior, limited to one carry in the first half, finished with 56 yards on five carries while Matt Brady (35 yards) and Kevin Sullivan (7 yards) chipped in with the remaining yards.

“To be honest, I really don’t want the ball that many times,” McClelland said after he found out he had 46 carries. “But I’ll do whatever this team needs me to do to win the game. If the coach decides I need to carry the ball I will do my role to the best of my ability.”

Amazingly, the Indians were able to control the ground with Culpeper playing nine and 10 guys in the box on every play. The only deep back was junior Kent Hicks, who played center field most of the game while the other 10 rushed.

For the season, McClelland now has 2,171 yards on 296 carries and 25 TDs. He also improved his perfect passing mark in the playoffs, completing one attempt for 16 yards.

Sullivan raised his yearly total to 563 yards on 72 carries.

McClelland and Sullivan also spearheaded a defense that limited the Blue Devils to 64 yards rushing. Both were in on 11 tackles while McClelland recovered three fumble.

The Indians dominated up front on offense as well. Behind the blocking of center Robert Wickline, guards Chris Collins, John Bradshaw, tackles James Pruitt and Justin McClelland, and tight ends Robert Thompson and Jay Montgomery, the Stafford backs were getting three to four yards before being touched by the third quarter.

“We have a very good offensive line,” Pierce added. “And when you talk to Thomas he gives the offensive line all the credit in world. You can see how good they are when we give Tim Sullivan, Matt Brad or Kevin Sullivan the ball. They all had big runs tonight.”

The majority of the offensive unit turns around and plays both ways and according to Pierce, they don’t miss a beat because they are in excellent shape. Justin McClelland and Robert Thompson also had fumble recoveries while Bradshaw, Collins, Tre Chambliss and Nick Colon had tremendous outings in the school’s biggest ever game.

“I felt like the defense really stepped up tonight,” McClelland said. “And I just happened to be at the right place at the right time on those fumble recoveries.”

According to Pierce, who took King George to the Group AA finals in the mid 1990s, the mood at halftime was optimistic.

“We went into halftime knowing we had a lot of opportunities pass us by,” he said. “We could have folded at that point. But our guys stayed focused and went out and made plays in the second half.

“We have a number of seniors on this team that have done a very good job of staying focused. And that is what they have done week-in and week-out all season.”

The Blue Devils (6-6), which hadn’t lost more than four games since 1990, found success in the first half with the combination of quarterback Ben Pearson and wide receiver Brendan Greenaway. Pearson was 7 of 10 for 79 yards in the first half, all to Greenaway.

However, Pearson didn’t find his rhythm again until it was too late and the seven-time Commonwealth District champions were down 14 points with under three minutes to play.

Pearson, a 6-0, 155-pound senior, finished the game 20 for 30 for 229 yards and was able to get his team on the board with 32 seconds left when he hit Chip Josephs for the 13-yard TD.

An onside kick by Greenaway followed, but the Indians’ hands team swarmed the ball and never gave the Blue Devils a chance. One knee later by Allshouse, the Indians were celebrating their first-ever region title.

Greenaway had 13 catches for 130 yards on the night while Pearson was the leading rusher with 31 yard on two carries.

“It didn’t bother me that we went into half tied at 0-0,” McClelland said. “Because we have been a better second-half team all year. So I felt confident going out there in the second half.”

With the win, the Indians improved to 10-2 on the year and advance to the Group AAA, Division 5 state semifinals for the first time in school history.

Stafford will travel to play Hopewell, a 7-6 winner over Patrick Henry-Ashland, on Saturday. Game time is 1:30 p.m.

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