The single-wing offense has been around since the first half of the 20th century, and for the most part, it has been phased out of major high school, college and professional football.
But not in Ashburn.
Mickey Thompson brought the crowded backfield, whirling dervish attack with him to Stone Bridge when he moved over from Park View in 2000, and the Bulldogs have thrived ever since, piling up district and regional crowns, along with one state championship. With a 69-50 win over Yorktown last Friday afternoon, Stone Bridge advanced to the Virginia AAA Division 5 state semifinals for the fifth time in six years.
Thompson’s success with the offense goes back to 1998, and he’s prominently featured— along with Pop Warner—in the formation’s Wikipedia entry. Even though he’s clearly mastered the system and his Bulldogs posted 69 points in two of their three playoff games this season, Thompson insists they’re not just a one-formation team.
“When you looked at film, we knew we were so much better up front [than Yorktown],” Thompson said. “We’d stay in the single wing and wouldn’t run any spread because that was our advantage.”
Thompson needed to convince his players of this when they found themselves trailing 29-7—thanks to some outstanding plays by Yorktown’s junior two-way star M.J. Stewart and a couple of inopportune fumbles—with 9:30 to play in the first half.
“We just needed to quit turning the ball over. We were just getting beat on the deep ball in the first half,” Thompson said. “All we had to do was get a couple stops, and we’d turn this game around.”
Sterling Dailey, whose fumble set up M.J. Stewart’s weaving, 22-yard touchdown run that put the Patriots ahead by 22 points, was one of the Stone Bridge players who believed his coach.
“Coach Thompson was saying, ‘Let’s keep it precise and get moving, the game’s not over,’” said Dailey, whose second of three touchdowns with 6:55 to go in the second quarter was the first of 55 unanswered points by the Bulldogs.
From that point on, points were scored by Ryan Burns, Dailey and Christian Strahin on short runs; Rassaun Goldring on a punt return; and three plays covering 150 yards by D’Ante Yarborough. When the barrage was over, Stone Bridge led 62-29 early in the fourth quarter.
While Yorktown answered with three consecutive touchdowns to make it 62-50 with about a minute to play, most of the damage came against junior varsity players, as both Stanford-bound Burns and Alabama-bound defensive end Jonathan Allen were removed after the Bulldogs completed their astounding comeback. (An 87-yard kickoff return by Goldring accounted for the final score.)
“We didn’t even pull out the spread today because we were doing so well in the running game,” said Burns, who only had to throw seven passes, but completed five of them for 174 yards and two touchdowns. “We would have been fine if we pulled it out. Anything we do, we’ve got strengths and weaknesses, but we’ve got a lot of things to choose from.”
As Stone Bridge advances to the state semifinals at Richmond-area Hanover on Saturday, the question lingers: How do you stop them?
Since an early-season loss to Chantilly in 2011, Stone Bridge is 22-1 with the lone loss coming against South County, 25-3, just over a year ago in the second round of the playoffs. Stallions coach Gerry Pannoni said one of the problems for schools facing Stone Bridge is that hardly anyone else runs the single wing, which is why a recently adopted video editing and analysis program called Hudl helps. “You can break down teams any way you want and figure out what they’re going to do,” he said.
“[But the offense] creates a problem for you when you try to simulate it in practice,” Pannoni said. “You try to create whatever they do with as much speed as possible with your scout team so that it seems slower during the game.”
In the end, though, it just comes down to playing better than the other team.
“You can’t just use a generic defense and say, ‘We’ll defend whatever they throw at us,’” Pannoni said. “You have to figure out what they do best and defend against that.”