Despite Stuart’s 79-yard drive that put them in a scoring position in a little over two minutes, the school’s final offensive play of the game was blown up by Mason linebacker Misael Benitez.
Benitez broke through the line and took down Raider running back Chris Ventura five yards deep in the backfield, ending Stuart’s shot at a last-minute comeback. The Mustangs took over on downs and ran out the final 58 seconds of the game with the shutout intact.
“With what we do defensively, you’re gambling with the style that we play, and thankfully they had a lot of fourth and shorts,” said Mason Head Coach Tom Horn.
“It could go either way. It just happened that it went Misael Benitez and linebacker Matt Palmieri’s way.”
With Stuart inside Mason’s 30 yard-line, Manuel Veiga-Diaz – another one of the team’s seasoned linebackers – made a stop on fourth, one almost identical to what Benitez made in the fourth quarter.
Following the Veiga-Diaz stop, the Raiders offense became stagnant until its final drive. Four of the Stuart Raiders’ next six drives ended in punts, while the others ended with a fumble and an interception.
While the Mason defense shined, the offense struggled to move the ball and put points on the board.
The game’s sole touchdown was set up by a diving interception by sophomore defensive back Stephen Lubnow two minutes into the second quarter. On the following play, senior running back Ben Taylor broke loose for a 50-yard touchdown run to give Mason a 7-0 lead.
“I didn’t really have to do anything special, the hole was huge,” said Taylor. “I just hit the hole and kept running. There was lots of green in front of me.”
The Mustangs would remain committed to the running game throughout the contest, as starting quarterback Tyler Duncan only attempted two passes, going 1-2 with a pick in his debut.
The rest of Mason’s offensive plays revolved around their crop of experienced running backs. Taylor, Palmieri who plays fullback, senior Yates Jordan and senior Chris Saraus were the team’s main workhorses.
“We’ve got four kids who can really carry the ball,” said offensive coordinator Chris Capannola. “They all play defense, too, so it’s good to keep everybody fresh and spread the ball around.”
After a scoreless third quarter, the fourth began with the Mustangs holding the ball inside the Stuart 20 yard-line, looking to pull ahead by two possessions. Mason had recovered a fumble near midfield, and drove 30 yards before running out the third quarter.
A run up the middle by Saraus to convert on fourth and two gave the drive new life as Mason moved inside the 10 yard-line. The Raiders defense held strong again though, forcing another fourth down.
Rather than trying for another fourth down conversion, Horn and Capanolla called on freshman placekicker Henry Darmstadter. In his first game action of his career, Darmstadter came through, drilling the 25-yard field goal to give the Mustangs a 10-0 lead with just 8:37 to play.
Horn went with Darmstadter for the field goal kick despite having two seniors, Veiga-Diaz and Jordan, with kicking experience in his arsenal.
“I know Manuel [Veiga-Diaz] wanted to kick it,” Horn explained. “But for us, as a group, to have a fresh kid who is that good and that steady, it was a no-brainer. [Darmstadter] drilled that ball even though there was a lot of pressure.”
The team will continue its non-district schedule this Friday, Sept. 11 in their home opener against Luray High School at 7:30 p.m. Stuart will take on another cross-town rival, Marshall High School, at home on Friday. That game will also kick off at 7:30 p.m.