HIGHLAND SPRINGS, Va. -- More than a year after their region record 40-game winning streak was snapped in the regional semifinals, Highland Springs is back in the Class 5 State Final. It is their fifth appearance in six years.
Given everything that has transpired since that game against Varina in November 2019, the Springers are appreciating this trip to the Championship game.
"The guys you gotta kind of gauge about are the guys that have been around four years, the seniors," Highland Springs Head Coach Loren Johnson said. "Guys who have done a tremendous job of holding this program together throughout the pandemic and doing everything they can to get us to this point."
Leading up to this abbreviated spring season, several of those seniors talked about not losing a game.
So far, the Springers are 8-0 and held their opponents to 31 points total. They've recorded five shutouts, including two straight in the playoffs.
"They understand what we expected from them as coaches," Coach Johnson explained. "They understand what we try to get accomplished here in the program and in our community. And I think they took it upon themselves to say we're not going to let this happen anymore."
Highland Springs will host the Class 5 State Championship game at Varina High School against Stone Bridge on Saturday.
They've met three previous times in the title game, all won by the Springers.
"Stone Bridge always comes with something a little bit different," Coach Johnson said. "They have the same coaching staff, Head Coach for sure, but their philosophy and thought process about playing football hadn't changed a lot. But they do have a couple of wrinkles in there that you got to be aware of."
Stone Bridge, who has played in four of the last five Class 5 State Title games, is 8-0 this season.
The Bulldogs have averaged over 57 points per game and have outscored opponents 445-89 in a variety of ways.
"They'll run the ball for 400 yards, throw the ball for 300 yards, they'll take what you give them," Coach Johnson said. "We got to be a well-rounded football team. We have to be good in special teams. They eliminate a couple of areas in special teams, not the entire phase but they put some strain on you in a lot of different ways during the game."
While Highland Springs has dealt with many unknowns successfully this season, there is one more, hosting a State Championship. Something they hadn't done in their previous trips to the final.
"Some things will be normal for us," Coach Johnson said. "And we'll enjoy the comfort of our own bed. At this time of the season, it seems like a benefit. But when the game starts, and you're in between the white lines, I'm not sure any of that really matters."
Regardless of the outcome, Saturday's game will be the last ride for the Highland Springs seniors, who have been thinking about this moment for the last 18 months. And who wants to leave 15 S. Oak Avenue with a third State Championship ring.
"Win, lose or draw, I'm excited about what our kids have done," Coach Johnson said. "I'm excited about where our program is. And I'm happy to be playing in the State Championship game. The kids have done everything the right way to be here, in place, in position. The parents have done a great job helping our kids to get to this place and this position. And without our players and our parents, we don't even have a program."