Mustangs Tumble Back to .500

By Natalie Heavren

JUNIOR NATHAN JARAMILLO spelled senior Connor Plaks at running back from time-to-time after sophomore George Papadopoulos had to leave the game early due to injury. (Photo: Stella Turner/ The Lasso)

A rally fell just short for George Mason High School’s football team in its 21-20 loss last Friday to Skyline High School as the team dropped to 4-4

After finding themselves down 14-0 in the first quarter, the Mustangs would rebound to take a late lead that they couldn’t hold onto in crunch time.

Senior two-way player Connor Plaks’ interception right before the end of the third quarter had Mason’s comeback in full swing. A touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Evans Rice on the ensuing drive pushed the Mustangs ahead for the first time and had the team 10 minutes away from a 5-3 record. However, senior kicker Tucker Gaskins’ missed extra point only put Mason up 20-14 and left the door open for Skyline.

The Hawks didn’t waste the opportunity. After returning the kickoff to midfield, Skyline scored three minutes later to go up 21-20 with seven minutes to play. The Mustangs failed to regenerate the offensive momentum they once had in the game’s final moments.

“I’ve told them they’re close to being a great team,” Mason head coach Adam Amerine said. “We just got to be able to step over that hurdle and get some younger guys on the field so our older guys aren’t just collapsing from exhaustion. And [we] gotta get some of these younger guys on the same page with us.”

The loss overshadowed some exceptional performances from the Mustangs. Plaks, who also served as the lead running back, was integral to digging Mason out of its early two-touchdown hole. He bulldozed his way down the field during drives in the second and third quarter that he finished with nine and four-yard runs, respectively, to tie the game at 14 early into the second half.

He was backed by sophomore linebacker Joshua Stillwagoner’s team-leading 13 tackles, junior Nathan Jaramillo’s nine tackles, and sophomore running back George Papadopoulos’ 85 yards rushing on 15 attempts to go with nine tackles.

Heroism from the Mustangs was necessary due to the game’s start. The Hawks easily moved down the field in its first drive and took a 7-0 lead three minutes after the opening kickoff. A 92-yard catch and run on its third drive gave Skyline a commanding two-score lead with a minute and a half to go in the first quarter.

Mason had its chances to counter early on, but poor execution and penalties killed any momentum. The Mustangs’ first drive was a victim of the latter. A gifted possession on Skyline’s own 12-yard line after a botched punt attempt fell prey to the former when Mason turned it over on downs after four plays. The penalties especially stuck out to Amerine.

“We would get a little momentum, [then] we’d get a hold or jump offsides or whenever we were trying to stop them there. It hurt,” Amerine said, while noting there was no simple solution. “At some point, we’re gonna have to take people off the field that are committing these penalties. But with so many injuries, we’re kind of stuck in a corner.”

The Mustangs travel to William Monroe High School for their last road game of the season tomorrow night at 7 p.m.