By Josh Singer (October 15, 2001)
Following a bye week and threats of a postponed game, George Mason beat Madison County 17-6 and spoiled the homecoming festivities on the Mountaineers’ home field in the opening game of the Mustangs’ district schedule last Friday night.
Coming off their bye week, the Mustangs were eager to play, "In the past few days of practice we were really anxious," said senior quarterback Matt Bond. The game almost was postponed to Monday due to a whooping cough outbreak at Madison County High School.
"I’m ready to play," junior running back Eric Powell said, "look for an explosive running game and good control of the clock."
The Mustangs did just that, having possession of the ball for the last eight minutes of the first quarter. However, the Mustangs’ first drive was unsuccessful as senior split end Ben Griffin fumbled the ball following a reception. Madison County, unable to move the ball due to Mason’s stingy defensive line, went 3 and out, punting to the Mason 17-yard line. Only two plays later Matt Bond connected with Griffin on a 20-yard pass with 9:30 remaining in the second quarter. Griffin, making up for the fumble, then ran 60 yards up the left sideline for an 84-yard touchdown, and the Mustangs’ first score of the night. Griffin completed the scoring drive by converting the extra point, his first of the night.
Yet the Mustangs’ celebration was short lived as the Mountaineers on the second play of their next drive completed a 5-yard pass to the left and out-sprinted all Mason defenders for a 60-yard touchdown. This would be the first and last time that the Mustang defense let the Mountaineers score. With the Mountaineers’ missing their extra point attempt, the Mustangs went back to work, starting out on their own 26-yard line after a 13-yard return from sophomore Reggie Whittaker. Despite great blocking by the offensive line, the Mustangs were unable to move the ball consistently and were forced to punt.
On third and 15 from their own 43-yard line, Madison County attempted a quick pitch to the right side. However, due to constant pressure from the defensive linemen, a crashing end in junior Kevin Kuhn, and blitzing linebackers in senior Joey Cohe, junior Eric Powell and sophomore Matt Williams, the running back fumbled the ball, later recovered by Williams. On first down with 2:10 left in the half quarterback Matt Bond scrambled left, and unleashed the ball 40 yards down field into a horde of Mountaineer defenders as well as Griffin and senior tight end Neil Powell. Griffin, using what basketball players would call ups, jumped up and came down with the ball, tearing into the end zone for his second touchdown of the night. Following the touchdown, Bond was heard saying, "I know that Ben can out jump anyone out there, so I just threw towards him." The extra point attempt by Griffin was good, making the score 14-6 Mason with 2:04 remaining.
Madison resumed with the ball at their own 35 following a Bond kick out of bounds at the 7-yard line. Yet again the Mustang defense overpowered the Madison offensive line, at one point missing two sack attempts, only to sack the Madison quarterback with four defenders in the end. The extraneous pressure by the defensive line complemented by strong coverage by both linebackers and cornerbacks forced Madison to punt once again, this time to the Mustang’s own 5-yard line.
The Mustangs, however, didn’t have enough time for a complete drive as junior running back Dominic Clark ran twice for 11 yards, exhausting the clock.
Returning from their halftime rest, the Mustangs went right back to work. Even with a few good runs from Eric Powell, and workhorse Dominic Clark they were unable to reach the end zone. However, they did come out of the drive with a 39-yard field goal courtesy of Ben Griffin with 6:55 remaining in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Madison returned the ball to its own 40-yard line only to fumble once again on a hard hit by Eric Powell. While good things came from the drive, Mason was unable to capitalize on the field position and ended up having to punt the ball away.
For the rest of the game the offense did exactly what was expected of it, controlling the clock. It was the defense, though ,that preserved the lead for the Mustangs. The next three drives for the Mountaineers led them into the red zone, only to be denied by the ever-stingy defense of the Mustangs. A couple of sacks by freshman tackle Chris Epling, and one from linebacker Matt Williams plus great play by the secondary made sure that the Madison offense was shut down.
On Madison’s final drive following a missed field goal by Ben Griffin, the Mountaineers marched down the field to the Mustangs 7-yard line, only to be turned down once again by great defense by Joey Cohe, Alex Miller, Kevin Kuhn, Chris Epling and Neil Powell.
Mason recovered on downs from their own 10-yard line and ensured the victory as Dominic Clark ran the ball strongly up the middle, gaining 39-yards on the final drive. The game ended with Matt Bond taking a knee at the Mustang 43-yard line. After the game offensive coordinator Sonny Merchant said, "Overall, we came out and did the things winning football teams do. We executed to perfection, so that we only needed a few tweaks come half time."
"For 47 minutes and 50 seconds we played physical defense," said Coach Horn, "it was as dominant a defensive game as we’ve ever played." Senior captain, and middle linebacker Joey Cohe agreed, "We stepped it up when it was necessary and played solid defense the whole game."
Overall, quarterback Matt Bond was 6 out of 10 for 165 yards passing, an average of 16.5 yards per attempt, and 32 yards running. Ben Griffin led all receivers with 142 yards. Neil Powell was next with 42 yards, and Eric Powell had two yards.
On the rushing side, l Dominic Clark led all backs with 132 yards rushing on 32 rushes, for an average of 4.1 yards per carry. Other backs that ran for the Mustangs were Eric Powell, 38 yards five carries, and Matt Williams, -4 yards on two carries.
On the defensive side there were five sacks, two by Chris Epling, as well as numerous pressures by the whole defense. The team forced three fumbles, and deflected many pass attempts at both the throwing and receiving ends.
Next week the Mustangs will play at home for the first time since they defeated the Middlesex Chargers. Mason will be going up against rival Brentsville at 2 on Saturday.
Photos by Kevin Dorsey