By Drew Costley
George Mason High School’s varsity football team finished the regular season with a winning record for the first time since 2009 after beating Manassas Park High School 21-20 last Friday. Now, the Mustangs (6-4) are headed for the playoffs for the first time since 2006, where they’ll face Robert E. Lee High School (7-3) of Staunton on Friday in the opening round.
Both accomplishments – finishing with a winning record and making the postseason – are goals that Head Coach Tony Green and the rest of the Mustang coaching staff set for the team during the preseason.
“This team worked all year to make that happen,” Green said. “They listened to the coaching, they worked hard every day in practice, they overcame a lot of adversity at times, and they never quit.”
The Panthers (2-8) had a chance to win in the fourth quarter last Friday even though the Mustangs were ahead 21-14 at halftime. After bringing the score to 21-20 in the fourth quarter, the Panthers went for a two-point conversion and the win. But George Mason freshman defensive end Jacob Plata pressured and nearly sacked Manassas Park’s quarterback, who threw the ball into the back of the end zone where there was no Panther receiver to make the catch.
Green said he was proud of the defense’s ability to pressure Manassas Park. But that wasn’t all he said he felt.
“I felt relief,” Green said. “I mean that was a big play and it could have went either way, but I thought it was impressive of our defense to rise up – not just give it up, but rise up – and make them earn it.”
George Mason senior quarterback Grant Hagler and junior wide receiver Alfonso Banks initiated scoring for the Mustangs with a touchdown pass and catch in the first quarter. Hagler and Banks connected for another touchdown in the second quarter. Sophomore running back D’Montae Noble also ran for a touchdown in the second quarter. Junior placekicker Henderson Beam knocked in all three extra points.
The Panthers kept pace with the Mustangs throughout the game with scores of their own in the first, second, and fourth quarters.
“I think it showed how far this team has come,” Green said. “In a tight game like that, we were able to play our game and come out with a victory. It was a big win.”
Green said the team wanted to beat the Panthers to build momentum going into its first-round playoff match-up against the Leemen. The Leemen are fresh off of a 35-27 win over Harrisonburg High School last Friday to finish off their regular season.
The Mustangs have been working on containing Lee senior quarterback Javon Chisley, who ran for 277 yards and three touchdowns in the Leemen’s win over the Blue Streaks.
“It’s going to take the whole team to contain him,” Green said. “He’s a really good player.”
The Mustangs will have senior defensive end and fullback Connor Rhodes back from an ankle injury, barring any setbacks this week in practice, to help stem Chisley’s effectiveness.
“Having Connor back as an edge presence really helps us I think,” Green said. “Whenever you get a senior player back … I think that really helps.”
Chisley limped off the field towards the end of the Leemen’s win last Friday, but his replacement, sophomore Ben Smith, came in and threw a 29-yard touchdown pass. The Mustangs have been practicing wrapping up on tackles all week in preparation for trying to limit the Leemen’s offense, which Green called explosive.
Green said since the team accomplished their goals of making the playoffs and finishing the season with a winning record they have set their eyes on a new objective.
“We knew our goals and stayed together and we achieved part of our goals. That was to get to the playoffs,” Green said. “And now we want to win a playoff game.”