By Brian Eller -- email@example.com
QUICKSBURG -- The script was set for Stonewall Jackson. The Generals were trailing by one touchdown in overtime, facing a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The snap came, followed by the handoff to tailback Dylan Dawson. After a brief pause the referee signaled the call.
Touchdown Stonewall Jackson.
With the score, the Generals were just an extra point away from tying the game and forcing a second overtime. But neither head coach Dick Krol nor the Stonewall players wanted to go to another period of play. They wanted to settle it right then and there.
As the offense lined up for a 2-point conversion, the impact of the call was simple. Score, and win. Come up short and lose by 1 point.
Dawson again took the handoff from quarterback John Michael Pirtle. But this time his efforts fell short, as Dawson was brought down at the 1-yard line, giving George Mason the 7-6 win over the Generals.
"I think it was the worst feeling I've ever had in my life," Dawson said. "Just to look up and see that I'm only a foot away. I don't know if I've ever had a feeling like that in my life."
After the game, several Stonewall players were in tears, as the coaching staff gave some final words in the team huddle. As members of the team headed for the locker room, some players remained on the field, arms around each other, saddened and in disbelief of the events that had just transpired.
One guy in the center of the field was Pirtle, who simply stood talking with teammate Steven Saunders.
"My boys are in tears right now because it's all here on the field," Pirtle said. "They have nothing more to give, and I'm so proud of what they did, and I love them for how hard they worked. They gave it all. They truly did."
It was fitting that a game so limited in total offense for either team be decided by 1 yard. Before the overtime, in fact, neither team eclipsed 120 yards of total offense, and became locked in a constant battle for field position.
Both teams relied heavily on their rushing attack, with the Generals attempting just 11 passes, while the Mustangs had only 8. Pirtle completed five of his 11 passes, managing just 6 yards per completion, however and George Mason quarterback Tyler Duncan was 2-for-8 for 28 yards, including a touchdown and interception.
Despite coming up a yard short on the 2-point conversion, Dawson led the Generals in rushing, carrying the ball 12 times for 29 yards and Stonewall's only touchdown. Running back Trevor Warner had 24 yards on seven carries, while running back Cole Shaffer gained 19 yards on five attempts.
Though the Generals' offense had trouble sustaining drives against the Mustangs, their inability to find the end zone was compounded by turnovers. Stonewall Jackson fumbled the ball four times, losing three of them to George Mason. Arguably the most costly mistake was committed by Warner in the fourth quarter. With the Mustangs facing a third and long situation, Duncan ran to the left side, looking for an open receiver down field. His pass sailed high in the air, and fell right into Warner's hands for the interception.
Potentially a reward from the interception, Warner got the Generals' next play from scrimmage, but fumbled the ball as he darted up the middle into the arms of an awaiting Mustang linebacker.
"It's been an area of concern, and we've worked on it," Krol said. "If there's one thing we've worked on every single day it's fumbles, and what do you do?"
With the loss the Generals fall to 0-3, while George Mason improves to 3-0 on the season. And while the loss left Stonewall players in tears, both Krol and Pirtle said there is a lot to take away from the game, and credit should go to the Mustangs.
"We felt so very close," Pirtle said. "We were right there, and we needed just one spark, and we weren't able to get that going, but I commend Mason, they did an excellent job as well, both offensively and defensively. They were a very good opponent. They played hard."