Clarke County rallies from halftime deficit, beats George Mason, 35-14

Posted: October 27, 2012

Special to The Winchester Star

FALLS CHURCH — Coming off two consecutive Bull Run District losses. the Clarke County football team was looking for a quick, inspired start in its road contest against last-place George Mason Friday night, a team that had lost seven of its eight games and was giving up an average of 35 points a game.

What the Eagles did instead was played arguably their worst half of football all season long to find themselves in a 14-7 halftime hole.

However, head coach Chris Parker has not won numerous Bull Run District titles without coming up with an inspirational halftime speech or two. Though it is not known exactly what Parker said to his team at the break, it was certainly attention getting.

Parker’s halftime “pep talk” inspired 28 unanswered points and the Eagles rolled to an important 35-14 district victory over George Mason in a game that was anything but easy.

“I don’t know why. As a head coach you have to take responsibility for your team when they do stuff like that,” said Parker of the slow start. “At halftime we had a little team meeting. if you want to call it that. on philosophy and how to play football. Our guys responded in the second half, I'm very proud of them.

“(Mason) was making big-time plays. Some of the catches their receivers were making and plays they were making, they were doing the job and we weren’t. The first half Mason outplayed us, we didn’t play very well.”

When facing adversity it’s always nice to have a big-time senior that you can count on to make big plays. Parker and the Eagles have just that guy in running back Davey Hardesty. Hardesty finished the game with 233 yards and three touchdowns, with 153 yards and two scores coming in the second half.

Things didn’t start well for the Eagles at all. They were penalized on the opening kickoff and then watched the Mustangs take their opening possession and drive it right down the field like a team on an eight-game winning streak.

Mason (1-8 overall, 0-5 Bull Run) started the game at their own 35-yard line and put together a five-play, 65-yard drive, most of which came when freshman running back D'Montae Noble broke free and scored from 38 yards out to give the Mustangs a 7-0 lead less then three minutes into the game.

Not to be outdone, Clarke County (5-4, 2-3) answered with a quick strike of their own. Hardesty took the direct snap on the Eagles’ first play from scrimmage and raced nearly untouched 56 yards to tie the game merely 11 seconds later.

For the rest of the half, though, the Eagles offense struggled to get on track, though they did have one promising 11-play drive that eventually stalled at the Mason 34-yard line.

Meanwhile, Mason’s offense was putting together some impressive drives but just couldn’t finish them with scores. An eight-play and a 17-play drive that ate up time and yardage both stalled near midfield for the Mustangs and ended in punts.

However, the latter pinned the Eagles at their own 13-yard line with just under three minutes to play in the half. Wanting a score before the break, Clarke elected to thrown on all three downs, but couldn’t complete any of them, forcing them to punt back to Mason.

A poor punt set the Mustangs up at the Clarke 29 and two plays later receiver Alfonso Banks made an amazing, acrobatic catch of a Grant Hagler pass in the near corner of the end zone. The play went for 25 yards and gave the Mustangs the lead and momentum at the break.

The second half was all Eagles and they sent a message right from the start of the third quarter. It only took three plays, all Hardesty runs, for Clarke to tie the game 14-14. After an eight-yard run to start the half, Hardesty broke loose on a 49-yard scamper that set the Eagles up with a first-and-goal. On the next play Hardesty plowed his way eight yards into the end zone to tie it with 10:47 left in the quarter.

The Mustangs looked as if they would answer on their next possession, putting together another nine-play drive that resulted in a couple of first downs, but it eventually ended in a punt from the Eagle 38. Mason wouldn’t get another first down the rest of the night as the Eagles defense took over.

Hardesty and the Eagles took the lead for good on their next possession. Starting out at their own 14, Clarke went 86 yards in eight plays and Hardesty made it 21-14 with his third score, this time from 21 yards out with 2:10 remaining in the third quarter.

“We definitely got a pretty good pep talk at halftime after coming out that bad,” Hardesty said. “We came out flat in the first half but after halftime we picked it up and got the victory. They came out with a lot of heart and they were ready to play and we weren’t there yet.

“It was an important win to get us back on track. We wanted to establish our running game, over power them, and take advantage of our size.”

After picking up eight first downs in the first half, Mason was only able to get two in the second half, and they both came on their first drive. The Eagles outgained Mason 411-98 on the ground and allowed only 247 total yards while collecting four quarterback sacks.

Clarke would put the game away on the first two possessions for the fourth quarter. On their opening drive of the final period (and third of the half) the Eagles drove another 85 yards on five plays and took a two-touchdown lead when quarterback Sean McDonald broke free on the far sideline and raced 56 yards to make it 28-14 with 9:37 left in the game. McDonald finished the game with 109 yards rushing.

“We wanted to win obviously, but we wanted to bounce back after two tough losses,” Parker said. “We’re going to have to do it again, it’s huge next week.”