By Brad Fauber
Many of Dinwiddie's current football players felt they had something to prove entering this season following back-to-back early playoff exits in 2011 and 2012.
Both of those years, the Generals were beaten in the first round of the Group AAA Division 5 playoffs under the old Virginia High School League format. In 2011, Dinwiddie fell to Hanover. Last year, the Generals were upset by Hopewell.
"I think that set the tone for these guys," Dinwiddie head coach Billy Mills said in a phone interview Thursday. "We just felt like we kind of left a lot on the field a year ago, and most of these kids who are with me now were starters a year ago. We only lost five starters from last year. So they've kind of had a chip on their shoulder since that day."
And the Generals have certainly played like it.
Dinwiddie (14-0) has put together one of the finest football seasons in the 48-year history of the school, and the Generals now find themselves one win away from the program's first football state championship. Dinwiddie takes on Sherando (13-1) today in the Class 4A state final at Liberty University in Lynchburg, with kickoff scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
The Generals are making their third appearance in a state championship game, as Dinwiddie also reached the Group AAA Division 5 final in 2000 and 2008. Mills, who took over as head coach in 2005, is making his second appearance in a state championship game with Dinwiddie.
"It means a lot. It's been these kids' goal for their whole career here," Mills said. "They've been in the playoffs every year they've been in high school, but in January that [state championship] was all they wanted to talk about and it was apparent it was going to be their goal for the year. This group has gotten behind it and put the work in that they needed to get here."
Dinwiddie, a member of the Central District, rolled to a perfect 10-0 record in the regular season and seemed to only get better in the playoffs.
The Generals began the 4A South Region playoffs by stomping Jamestown, 63-0, and followed that with a 42-0 win over Norcom in the second round. Dinwiddie recorded its third straight shutout of the postseason in an impressive 28-0 win over Lake Taylor -- last year's Group AAA Division 5 state champ -- and reached today's state final with a 45-14 win over Heritage (Newport News) in the 4A South final last Saturday.
Dinwiddie has allowed just 8 points per game this season, and has yet to win a game by fewer than 21 points. The Generals have also recorded 57 sacks this season and have forced 37 turnovers.
"I think we play really good team defense. We've got some guys that have a ton of talent on that side of the ball, but they really play well together," Mills said. "They really take a lot of pride in having a good defense. We talk about defense wins championships around our place, and our kids have really gotten behind that."
The Generals are led by senior linebacker Rashard Hicks (team-high 113 tackles) and 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior defensive back/linebacker Rashaad Goodwyn (107 tackles), who has verbally committed to play football at William and Mary College next season.
Dinwiddie is also solid along the defensive line, with junior defensive end John Branch -- a converted safety -- leading the Generals with a school-record 14.5 sacks this season.
The Generals have plenty of playmakers on the offensive side as well, as Dinwiddie is averaging 47.4 points and 483 total yards per game, including 282.9 yards rushing.
Senior running back Sadarius Williams (208 carries, 2,065 yards and 21 touchdowns) leads the Generals' rushing attack, and senior quarterback Ronald Kearney has proven to be a dual-threat, rushing for 613 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing for 1,892 yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Mills is confident that Dinwiddie can continue its success in the running game against a Sherando defense that is allowing just 116 yards on the ground this season.
"Lake Taylor said we weren't going to be able to run the football, and we rushed for 285 on them. I think that's the most in like nine or 10 years against them," Mills said. "We've had people say that before. Our O-line takes that personal. They're a great group of kids who have been together a long time. No matter what the situation, they give us a good push off the ball."
Either Dinwiddie or Sherando is going to win its first football state championship this evening, and Mills expects it to be a physical battle for both teams.
"We're going to have to be resilient and know that we're facing a good football team," Mills said. "It's going to be one of those championship fights. We're going to exchange slugs and whoever is left standing at the end is going to hold up the trophy."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD