Going into their final regular season game against the Strasburg Rams, the George Mason High School football team knew that their postseason fate only partially rested in their hands, with the rest of their destiny controlled by a team hundreds of miles away.
In order to repeat a trip to the Region B playoffs, two things would have to happen: the Mustangs would have to best Strasburg, and on the opposite end of the state, Chatham would have to beat Appomattox.
While Mason took care of their end of the deal, trouncing the Rams 27-0, Appomattox secured their needed victory and catapulted themselves into the playoffs ahead of the Mustangs.
Following the game, senior Ted Peetz bemoaned the irony of the victory, commenting that “when it hits you that you’re never going to play football again…”
“It’s devastating,” interrupted fellow classmen Dallas Hudgens.
“It’s definitely a weird feeling,” echoed Russell Intermaggio. “We played so well and yet now, we’re not playing anymore. We had eight scoreless quarters for the first time in a long time, but we’re not out there on Friday.”
That was the prevalent mindset among the 11 graduating seniors on the squad. Despite the fact that they did not get a shot to play on past last Friday, they can hold their heads up high knowing they ended their campaign on a solid note.
For the second game in a row, the Mustang defense shut out their opponent and this time, it was not even a fair fight. Strasburg was held to only 39 yards on the ground the entire night against the clearly motivated Mason team.
In the absence of junior Joel Chandler, who was sidelined two games ago with a wrist injury, both the offense and the defense were forced to step up and fight for their shot to make the playoffs.
‘When Joel got hurt, it seemed like it hurt our defense,” commented Horn. “It was puzzling how in the two games after he was out, we put up shutouts. We definitely responded great, though.”
Referencing particularly a pair of sophomores in Matt Palmieri and Ben Taylor, Horn raved about how even scheming without Chandler did not deter his squad.
With 3:03 left in the first quarter, the Mustangs struck first when quarterback Mike Schwengel handed the ball off up the middle to junior running back Antoneo Folks. Folks promptly pitched it back to Schwengel, who in turn hurled it down the sideline into the waiting arms of John Mann for a 73-yard score.
For the remainder of the first half, though, it was just a consistent battle on the rain-soaked turf for field position, as the score stayed at 7-0 going into the half.
However, whatever Horn said to his team at halftime clearly motivated them to come out of the locker room and blow the game wide open, as they scored on their first three possessions.
Junior Charlie Mann continued his outstanding season, coupling a 19-yard burst up the middle with a four-yard score just a play later. Mann finished the game with 18 carries for 131 yards and a pair of scores.
On the next Mason possession, a 41-yard pass play from Schwengel to senior Lonnie Millard aided in the Mustang march down the field. Despite two holding penalties in a row, Schwengel found Millard again and, with a crushing pancake block by Sean Mondragon, scampered down the sideline for the 23-yard score.
Millard, who came into the game as a blocking tight end not used to hauling in passes, racked up a career day, hauling in six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.
With the win, the Mustangs finish their campaign at 7-3 overall, and 4-1 in the district, hardly a drop-off from last years’ perfect district record. However, since Appomattox bested Chatham on Friday, the Mustangs are left wondering what could have been.
Next year, nonetheless, with seven defensive starters and their four leading rushers returning, the Mustangs look to be just as reloaded as they have been in past seasons.
Despite losing four of their five offensive lineman, this off-season will mirror the transition from the 2006 to the 2007 season, in which the only consistent player in both spheres was junior center Andrew Lieber, now a cornerstone in the trenches.
For now, though, the loss of seniors Peetz, Hudgens, Schwengel, Millard, Intermaggio, Mondragon, Brady Hatfield, Graham Colton, Steve Parks, Austin Lucas and Barratt Kennett seems to sting deep for the young squad, who will turn to upcoming JV players to aid their recent success.
“Despite all the guys we lost, we probably won’t see a huge drop off,” said Horn. “It will be exactly the same as it was coming into this year, when we have guys that are not unknown, guys that have the ability to be cohesive with this team.”