Trailing 13-7 with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, George Mason High School linebacker Misael Benitez exploded through the line and sacked J.E.B. Stuart High’s quarterback Jason Friday on a crucial fourth and four well inside Mason territory.
This gave the Mustang offense yet another shot at taking the lead after sleepwalking through the middle quarters of the game. Senior running backs Charlie Mann and Joel Chandler took over the game at this point, nickel and diming the Raider defense with three and four yard runs for eight minutes before Chandler scored the winning touchdown on a one-yard plunge with 29 seconds left in the game.
Junior kicker Yates Jordan stayed perfect for the night on the ensuing PAT, barely clearing the upright to give Mason their first win of the season. Despite a Stuart penalty that moved the spot to the one yard line, Head Coach Tom Horn confidently stuck with his decision to let Jordan kick rather than trying a short two-point conversion.
“Yates is an athlete, and he kicks the same way no matter what the situation is. He’ll kick in every big play situation,” said Horn.
This was Jordan’s second game winning kick of his career. As a sophomore in 2007, he kicked the game winning extra point propelling George Mason to a 44-43 win in Madison County.
When Chandler dove into the end zone with 29 seconds left in the game, it was the first time Mason had scored since their first drive of the game. Senior running back Kevin Millard capped off an impressive opening drive with an eight yard TD run. Horn was impressed by J.E.B. Stuart’s revamped defensive scheme.
“We caught them off guard early, but they did a good job the next three quarters. We just couldn’t get [Chandler] the ball in the open field,” said Horn.
Mason unveiled a new four running back offense that does not have a prototypical quarterback position. Horn and offensive coordinator Chris Capannola took their double wing package, and replaced the quarterback with an extra running back that either takes a snap from shotgun, or one of the wings goes in motion and takes the snap. The system is supposed to deceive defenses, and allow the Mustangs to use their compilation of talented running backs efficiently. Horn’s offense is designed to gain three or four yards per play, but Stuart’s defense was able to sniff out plays before they could develop for most of the night.
Stuart’s offense was even more inconsistent than Mason’s. Running backs Terrill Hawkins and Anthony Champ showed flashes of brilliance, but also were irrelevant for a good portion of the game. Mason defensive lineman had their way with the Raider offensive line all night, preventing Friday and company to find any rhythm whatsoever. Stuart as a team was also plagued with penalties all night, another reason for their offensive woes.
The more than 200-pound senior, Champ, gave Stuart momentum early in the second quarter when he bounced a play to the outside and outran the entire Mustang defense on an 82-yard touchdown run down his own sideline to tie the game at seven points.
Hawkins scored the only other touchdown for Stuart in the third quarter on an eight-yard scamper, following his 40-yard run that moved the Raiders into the red zone for just the second time all night. The ensuing point after touchdown however, proved to be the difference in the game. Raider kicking specialist Armando Peredo hooked the extra point, leaving the score at 13-7.
Horn credited his team’s strong defensive play to his players being in the right spots and having multiple tacklers on almost every play. He was also impressed by his strong core of athletic and experienced linebackers. Juniors Matt Palmieri and Misael Benitez aggressively attacked Stuart’s powerful running backs the entire night. Despite losing their starting nose guard John Mann early in the game to injury, the defensive ends were able to control the line of scrimmage.
Mason takes their 1-0 record to Page County High School on Friday, Sept. 5 while J.E.B. Stuart will look to bounce back from a tough loss when they play McLean High School at home.