The George Mason High School boys varsity soccer team claimed the Region B title, but their season ended following that high-water mark after a surprising 1-0 loss to upstart King William High School in the State Tournament quarterfinals hosted at Mason on Tuesday night. With hearts as heavy as the night’s torrential rains, the Bull Run District and Region B champion Mustangs watched as their state title aspirations disappeared despite dozens of opportunities to pull even and prevail.
Mason dominated time of possession and virtually every offensive statistical category in a rain-soaked game that straddled a two-hour long lightning delay shortly after kickoff. However, after 80 minutes of playing time that finally concluded at 10:35 p.m., they still trailed in the goal column.
“We had the ball, they had the goal,” said a somber Mason High Head Coach Art Iwanicki after the defeat. The Mustangs out-shot the Cavaliers 28-2.
“Sometimes the game goes like that,” Iwanicki said. “Sometimes if you don’t put away your chances, the trend of the game changes.”
It was a reality as unexpected as it was unwelcome for the Mustangs. After ousting a talented Nelson County team in the Region B semifinals and advancing on penalty kicks over Goochland in the regional title game, it appeared Mason was poised to return to Radford and a berth in the State Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2005. Instead, it is the King William Cavaliers, making their first-ever appearance in the state tournament, who journey on after winning their first-ever Tidewater District title in May.
For Mason, it was a nightmarish opening to the match. A minute and a half into the contest, freshman goalie Tyler Back misplayed a relatively harmless ball near the top of the box. Caught between picking it up and playing it with his feet, the ball wound up in the control of King William striker Matt Harris, who trickled a shot from the top left corner of the 18-yard box along the ground and over the goal line.
It was a rare miscue in what has been a superlative rookie season with the varsity for Back. The freshman posted 10 shutouts for the Mustangs, earning the respect and praise of his team and coaches all the while. Though the opening, and only, goal proved to be the fatal marker for Mason, the loss hinged more on the Mustangs’ inability to finish an epic amount of offensive opportunities.
After falling behind, the weather would add another obstacle.
Seconds after the goal, the winds whipped up and blew in a deluge that created conditions ideal for an underdog looking for an upset. A series of lightning strikes sent the players off the field and when play resumed at 9:05 p.m., while the winds and the rain had died down, a wet field and slippery ball remained.
Those conditions kept both teams off balance after play restarted. Players searched for sure footing and the ball skidded over the surface, leading to long passes skittering both out of reach and out of bounds and wreaking havoc with Mason’s possession oriented game.
The Mustangs found their stride near the 25 minute mark, generating a series of surefire offensive chances that somehow failed to find a home in the back of the net.
With 15:11 remaining Nick Smirniotopoulos rocketed a shot from the top of the 18-yard box over the crossbar and 40 seconds later Antonio Randrianasolo blasted another ball right into the chest of King William goalie Justin Hutcheson. The shot may have rattled the keeper’s ribs but it did nothing to upset his nerves. Hutcheson twice more turned aside shots seemingly destined to tie the score, both coming off the feet of Elio Randrianasolo, who unleashed them at point-blank range from a yard away.
The rains returned at halftime in force, and continued at various strengths throughout the second 40 minutes. Mason came out of the break with a measure of urgency and immediately generated some strong scoring chances with Elio Randrianasolo ringing the crossbar just over a minute into play.
The Mustangs’ best opportunity to score in the match came at the 47-minute mark. Antonio Randrianasolo collected a pass in the middle of the six-yard box, took his time, but then fired it right into the chest of Hutcheson, again positioned perfectly to stop the shot.
Just over 10 minutes later, junior midfielder Jon Brooks bent a shot over a leaping Hutcheson from roughly 30 yards out, but again the ball ricocheted harmlessly off the crossbar.
Never again in the final 20 minutes of the match did the Mustangs mount better chances to score. King William packed nine and at times, 10 players into their half of the field, denying Mason any clean looks at the goal from the center of the 18-yard box.
“I would have faced a lot more [shots] if it hadn’t been for my teammates,” said Hutcheson, who was hoisted onto his team’s collective shoulders following the unlikely shutout.
“We just tried to aggravate them,” King William Head Coach Clint Ruhlman said. “I think we did that.”
The evidence of that frustration was more than visible by the sob-wracked shoulders of many of Mason’s players following the loss, with the rain only accounting for some of the moisture on their long faces.
“I really thought we’d do it,” Iwanicki said.
The sting of defeat was a strange sensation for the Mustangs, who had not been beaten since an April 7 loss to Group AA Potomac Falls.
The loss closes a highly successful season for the Mustangs that saw the team rack up a record of 16-3-2 and go undefeated in the Bull Run District. However, the team will fall short of its goal of a state championship, a reality that is particularly disappointing for seniors Andres Ramos, Antonio Randrianasolo, Wesley Frank, Matt Gresko and Tim Brooks.
"I’ll tell the guys this though,” Iwanicki said when interviewed before addressing his team. “If this is the worst thing that ever happens to them, then they will have led a very blessed life.”