HAMPTON, Va. -- Highland Springs senior Chris Thaxton caught the biggest pass of his high school career on Saturday against Stone Bridge (Ashburn). It came with under :30 to play and clinched the Springers second straight state title.
And all he could do was cry.
Thaxton recently lost his mother, Angie to bladder cancer. The entire Springer program has dedicated this season to her memory, using the hashtag #AngieStrong. Thaxton definitely believes his mom had a hand in helping him grab the most important catch of the year.
"I feel nothing but excitement," Thaxton said after the Springers 35-29 victory in the 5A final. "I know my mom would be cheering for me, telling me she loved me and giving me big hugs."
"I'm just glad I did it for the people I'm playing with," he said.
Thaxton's heroics almost did not happen. Stone Bridge, who lost last year's final to the Springers in Charlottesville, came out a much more focused team this year. They built a 13-0 first half lead behind two touchdowns from Bradley Block. Juwan Carter cut their halftime lead to 13-7 on a 19 yard touchdown run.
"We haven't been behind much at halftime this year," said Carter, who had 272 yards of total offense and accounted for 4 scores. "I had to talk to all my guys, tell them to keep their heads up and keep playing until the clock hit zero."
In the third, the Springers took their first lead on a 13 yard pass from Carter to Isaiah Winstead and led 14-13 after three quarters. Stone Bridge took back the lead thanks to a 22 yard run from Joshua Breece, who gashed the Springer defense for 209 yards.
Highland Springs then got back to back scores on a 62 yard run from Willie Harkless and a 48 yard scoring pass from Carter to James Jackson that gave them a 28-21 lead.
Stone Bridge marched down the field on their final drive, capping it with Block's third score of the day with 1:22 to play. A 2-point conversion gave the Bulldogs a 1 point lead, setting up Thaxton's heroics.
"He wasn't the one who was supposed to get the ball," Carter said of Thaxton on the final play. "Everything turned out perfect for him and I'm proud to have him on my team."
"In the midst of tragedy, he has been the guy we lean on the most," head coach Loren Johnson said of Thaxton. "You can only imagine 100 kids leaning on one person. But Chris is the strongest kid I know."
"My coach always told me, 'God doesn't tell you what's going to happen, it just happens,'" Thaxton said. When asked what he would say to his mom, Thaxton replied: "I love you, and I did it for you."