FALLS CHURCH — A Central football team that has grown accustomed to success finds itself in some new territory after a 15-13 setback on the road at George Mason on Friday night.
The Falcons have lost two straight games for the first time since the end of the 2015 season and are below .500 for the first time since starting 1-3 that same year. With just three games left in the regular season, Central, which entered last week ranked seventh in the Region 3B power ratings, is a borderline playoff team that likely needs to salvage some wins down the stretch to keep its postseason streak alive.
On Friday against the Mustangs, Central’s offense simply didn’t produce enough to overcome three turnovers, two of which proved costly.
“I don’t know until I watch film,” Falcons head coach Mike Yew said of what issues loomed largest in the loss. “I’m really frustrated at a lot of little things we do. I still thought we played really well defensively. ... Hats off to (Mason head coach Adam Amerine). His team, they’re always ready to play and they’re always scrappy. He’s a good guy. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He knows that. We talk all the time during football and baseball season. I think the world of him, wish his guys the best of luck. We’ve just got to find a way to right this ship, to find another win or two so we can get into the playoffs and then see what happens after that.”
The Falcons (3-4, 0-2 Class 3 Northwestern District) have fought spells of inconsistency for much of the season and did more of the same against Mason (4-3, 1-1). Playing with a shorthanded backfield that was missing running back Chris Conner and fullback Isaiah Dyer, the team’s second- and third-leading rushers, Central mustered just 205 yards of offense and 95 yards rushing.
That total actually eclipsed that of Mason’s offensive output — the Mustangs finished with just 178 yards — but Central lost a fumble that set up a short TD drive and had a turnover in the red zone in the second half. The Falcons also allowed five sacks.
“God darn it, we’ve got to win battles,” Yew said. “That’s what it comes down to. We’ve got to accept challenges and we’ve got to win battles.”
As well as Central’s defense played, it was a poor series from that unit at the end of the first half that helped Mason take the lead with a 65-yard touchdown drive, one that Amerine said gave momentum to a Mustangs squad that had been outscored by the Falcons 112-8 in their previous three meetings.
The Falcons committed five penalties on the drive, including three offsides penalties, a facemask that tacked on extra yardage at the end of a 23-yard run and moved Mason to the Central 11-yard line and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on third down from the 2 that gave the Mustangs a first down.
After George Papadopoulos’ 1-yard touchdown run with 25 seconds left in the first half, the Falcons jumped offsides on the extra-point attempt, prompting Mason to go for a 2-point conversion that the Mustangs converted to take an 8-6 lead into halftime.
“The facemask, those kinds of things, I don’t know. When kids are playing hard, things like that happen,” Yew said. “The offsides, that’s a little bit of a discipline issue but at the same time we’re getting after people and we’re getting off the ball.”
Central’s offense had its chances in the second half.
The Falcons opened the third quarter with a time-consuming drive that inched into Mason territory, but a delay-of-game penalty backed Central up on third-and-5 from the Mustang 44. A 4-yard pass completion set up fourth-and-6 from the 45, and Central opted to run a quarterback draw with Kelan Hoover — something the Falcons did on multiple occasions with middling success — and came up a yard short.
George Mason’s missed field goal on its only third-quarter possession — which included two touchdowns called back by penalties — gave Central the ball back still down just 2 points, but the Falcons lost a fumble three plays later when receiver Landon Shockey was popped while taking a handoff on a reverse at the Central 19.
The Mustangs, who had a third touchdown called back on a penalty during the drive, cashed in on the short field with Papadopoulos’ second 1-yard TD plunge to go up 15-6 with 10:19 to play.
“There ain’t too much I can say until I get a chance to watch film,” Yew said. “It’s gonna be frustrating. I’m sure it’s gonna be frustrating. I just told my kids honestly, maybe I need to stop and take a look at what we’re doing and reevaluate our approach as coaches to what we’re doing because something right now is not flowing the way it should.”
Needing an answer, Central drove to the Mason 15 after Hoover connected with Brevin Scott for a 48-yard gain, but a sack on third down pushed the Falcons back to the 19. Central, which had its first extra-point attempt blocked in the first half, passed up a field-goal attempt down 9 points with over seven minutes to play, and Hoover’s pass into heavy traffic in the end zone was intercepted by Enzo Paradiso.
“I don’t know that we were close enough,” Yew said of not attempting what would’ve been about a 35-yard field goal try by Alex Lopez. “If I look at it on film and realize it was, then maybe yeah, maybe I did make a mistake. But I didn’t think we were quite close enough to really go for that.”
Central did respond with its only takeaway of the night when Billy Ball recovered a fumble at the Mustangs’ 27 three plays later. Scott’s 7-yard touchdown run on an end-around cut Mason’s lead to 15-13 with 4:21 left.
The Falcons got the defensive stop they needed and got the ball back at their own 43 with 2:31 left, but Hoover was sacked on first and second down and was pressured into incompletions on the next two snaps.
Hoover completed 6 of 17 passes for 88 yards and was picked twice by Paradiso. Hoover also rushed eight times for 38 yards, excluding the 27 yards lost on five sacks.
Without counting sack yardage, Central averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Alex Neff led the Falcons’ undermanned backfield with 20 carries for 74 yards.
“They certainly threw it a little more,” Amerine said of the Falcons. “I was maybe expecting a little more power-running game out of them, which is what we’ve seen on film. They didn’t show it too much, a couple plays early. We got some pressure when they did throw and I thought we made Hoover move his feet. If you let him stand back there, he has one of the biggest arms. … But we made him move his feet.”
Scott had three receptions for 76 yards and scored twice, including a 23-yard touchdown reception from Shockey on a fourth-down gadget play that got the scoring started with 6:49 left in the first half.
The Mustangs’ double-wing offense generated 153 yards rushing on 37 carries (an average of 4.1 yards per carry) before a trio of kneel-downs to run out the clock at the end of the game.