In an evenly matched game, special teams proved to be the difference in the George Mason Mustangs’ home opener last Friday night against Luray High School, with Mason winning 14-13.
With the win, Mason moved to 2-0 for the season.
Mason’s Mustangs led 14-7 at the half, and the team’s two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the first half would be all they needed to hang on for the victory.
Each team found the end zone twice throughout the contest, but it was a blocked extra point by senior Matt Palmieri that preserved the win for Mason.
Trailing 14-7 with 23 seconds left in the third quarter, Luray scored what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown on a 30-yard strike from quarterback Will Logan to a leaping Dylan Mayes in the front corner of the end zone, for the pair’s second touchdown connection of the evening. The Bulldogs’ ensuing extra point however, was denied by Palmieri and Mason was able to keep a one point lead.
” My freshman year, I missed a tackle in overtime against [Luray] and they beat us,” said Palmieri. “I just felt like I had to do something tonight to change that… [On film] I saw how weak the outside protectors were, and I knew [senior Sam] Dittmar was going to blow up his tight end to let me get in there.”
Following the blocked extra point, the Mustangs took a 14-13 lead into the fourth quarter and held on to win by the same score, as neither team put points on the board in the final 12 minutes.
While the defenses set the tone for the most part, it was a few big plays that allowed the offenses to score points throughout the game; each touchdown was either scored on, or set up by a play of 30 yards or more.
With two minutes left in the opening quarter, Luray found its first big play; a 33-yard scramble on a busted play by Logan to put the Bulldogs inside the Mason 5-yard line. After two runs of no-gain and an incomplete pass, Logan made good of the long run with his first touchdown strike to Mayes, a three-yard seam route on fourth down to the left third of the end zone.
Mayes, a 6-foot-3 wide receiver, used his height to his advantage throughout the game against an undersized Mustang secondary.
“Every time they wanted to complete a deep ball, and had time to, they were going to complete a deep ball,” said Mason Head Coach Tom Horn. “But it wasn’t a coverage issue. All of their deep balls were well covered. Yates [Jordan] had great coverage and the guy just took the ball away from him… it was just a size mismatch.”
The Mason defense compensated for its lack of size with a steady and unpredictable pass rush to try and prevent more big plays from the Bulldog passing game. The linebacking core, led by senior Misael Benitez provided most of the pressure on Logan throughout the game.
“Misael [Benetiz] was a force,” said senior RB/CB Ben Taylor on his teammate, who had two sacks in the contest. ” This kid [Benitez] is something special,” added Palmieri. “He cramped up and then came back in and just lit it up.”
While the Mason defense kept pressure on Logan, the Bulldog defense applied some pressure of its own on junior quarterback Tyler Duncan and the rest of the Mustang offense.
Luray’s defensive backs, Logan and junior Logan McCaughan each had interceptions, and the defense as a unit did not allow Mason to find much of a rhythm on offense.
However, along with the struggles came flashes of brilliance from the Mustang offense.
Duncan put Mason on the board midway through the second quarter with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Taylor down the right sideline on fourth and three. Duncan’s first career varsity touchdown pass tied the game at seven points, and swung the momentum in the Mustangs’ favor.
“When we needed the big play, Tyler [Duncan] came up with it,” said Horn. “And that’s what we ask our quarterback to do; if you have a chance to make a big play then do it – and don’t make the big mistake, which he hasn’t.”
Following a Luray three and out, the Mason offense picked up right where they left off when they began their next possession at midfield with less than three minutes to go in the first half.
On one of the first plays of the drive, senior running back Yates Jordan busted a 39-yard run that put Mason on the Luray 11-yard line. Chris Saraus, another senior running back, scored on a counter on the next play to give Mason the lead just before halftime.
The Mason football team travels to Stonewall Jackson High School this Friday, Sept. 18, where they look to remain undefeated in non-district play. The game starts at 7:30 p.m.