By Drew Costley
Sophomore linebacker Marcellus Piper gave the George Mason High School varsity football team a chance to tie the Warren County High School Wildcats with less than three minutes left to play in the game. Up 21-14, the Wildcats were creeping up on the Mustangs’ red zone, hunting for a score that would halt any chance for a Mustang comeback.
Then – on third and seven on the Mustangs’ 25-yard line – Wildcat senior quarterback Austen Butler threw a pass intended for senior running back Kristian Deal that was tipped by Mustang senior running back and defensive end Connor Rhodes. The ball was caught by Piper on the 16-yard line.
“I keyed on [Deal] and I saw him go out and I know that’s my guy,” Piper said. “And I thank Connor Rhodes for that tip and as soon as I got the ball, I wish I wasn’t tired, I wish I could have returned that or gotten a [few] more yards for my team.”
Instead, Piper returned to the 30-yard line, where the Mustangs started a drive that could have forced overtime. The Mustangs, who had two out of their three second-half offensive drives stalled by the Wildcats, brought the ball up to their own 48-yard line before getting stalled a third and final time. Their final offensive play was a run by Rhodes on fourth and inches. Several Warren County defenders met Rhodes at the line of scrimmage to force a turnover on downs.
“We failed on fourth and six inches,” said Mustang Head Coach Tony Green. “So, hey, we’ve got to look at ourselves and say we got to get better so we can make sure we can always get those six inches.”
The final score of the game was 21-14 in favor of the Wildcats. The Mustangs are now 4-3 on the season and 3-2 against teams in the Bull Run District. The Wildcats are 5-2 overall and 3-1 against district opponents.
“You know, they gave [themselves] a chance,” Green said. “That’s all I told them all year was to always give yourselves a chance to be in the game at the end.”
The Mustangs scored the first touchdown of the night with 5:07 left in the half when Rhodes ran the ball off of the left side from the Wildcats’ four-yard line. Sophomore running back D’Montae Noble had the biggest run of the night on the previous play, breaking two tackles and dodging a few Wildcats defenders before running the ball 44 yards.
The Wildcats struck back with a 67-yard, 10-play drive and used almost all of the remaining time in the half to tie the game at 7-7. Deal ran the ball in from eight yards out for a touchdown and junior kicker Jonathan Buggisch scored the extra point to finish off the drive.
“They had taken it to us the first half. I thought George Mason really went after us other than that last drive,” said Wildcat Head Coach Tony Tallent. “But I was proud of our kids, the way they responded.”
The Wildcats responded to the Mustangs’ play in the first half by opening up the second half with a five-play, 70-yard drive capped off with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Butler to junior wide receiver Eric Baker to make the game 7-13. Buggisch scored the extra point to give the Wildcats a 7-14 lead.
Butler scored again late in the third quarter with a 14-yard pass to senior wide receiver Casey Stewart, who was open on a slant play into the end zone. The Mustangs marched down the field after that score for a 65-yard, 12-play drive. Senior quarterback Grant Hagler found junior wide receiver Alfonso Banks, who ran a fade route into the end zone, for a 23-yard touchdown to finish off that drive.
Hagler was three for 11 passing for 39 yards against the Wildcats. Rhodes rushed for 66 yards on 16 carries and Noble rushed for 105 yards on 17 carries. Rhodes had seven tackles, junior defensive lineman Davis Hagigh had four tackles and Piper had five tackles, one for a loss and the interception for the Mustangs’ defense.
The Mustangs play their final home game of the regular season on Friday against William Monroe High School. It will be the final home football game for six Mason seniors on the roster.
“I’ve told my team all week – this is going to be an important game for our seniors,” Green said. “There [are] a couple things you remember in football at the high school level and that’s the last time you play on your home field and your very last game.”