ROUND ROCK—It is no consolation to Mason players and fans, but don’t assume the 21-3 final score in any way reflected the Punchers’ state quarterfinal loss to Shiner, December 7. It mirrored the game about as much as a paint-by-number portrait reminds you of van Gogh.
The real tally at the place called The Palace was 2-0—the Comanches came up with two huge plays. Mason did not, but its endurance, perseverance, and dedication were splendid testimony to the state championship it was attempting to defend.
“I was proud of our kids for not letting that play keep them down in the second half,” said Punchers’ head coach Kade Burns, moments after his team’s 27-game winning streak had been halted.
This “Play Number One,” arrived with under a minute to go before intermission. Mason quarterback Elliot Bibb had intercepted a pass, and then he was intercepted. Still, Shiner was deep in its own territory, and a scoreless first 24 minutes—because of superb defense on both sides—seemed assured.
Running back Evel Jones offered another option. “He’s a great football player,” declared Burns. “He’s one of the fastest Class A boys in the state.” Jones was indeed the fastest in pads in a 22-man, 74-yard gallop, and with 38 seconds showing on the clock, Shiner had scored first in stunning manner.
“We couldn’t come down on the dive back,” defensive coordinator Paul Smith lamented. “If you miss him a little, he’s gone.”
“We saw a prevent look,” added Comanche head coach Steven Cerny, whose team is 12-1, “so we wanted to stay conservative; we didn’t want to throw. It turned out big; that’s the veer; it can pop quick.”
Before the second big play emerged in the saga, Mason went on one of the longest drives by anyone ever—more than 11 minutes from early in the third quarter to the fourth. “We were nickel-and-diming them,” observed Burns. “We were getting the lanes, but we couldn’t pop the big ones; they were clipping us in the heels.”
That told so much of the story, and talented senior running back Rio Schmidt noted: “Give credit to their defensive line and linebackers; they scraped and really got to us. They have a heck of a team.”
Schmidt ended the monster 81-yard march with a 28-yard field goal. Mason was down 7-3 with 10:28 remaining.
The Punchers, who along with their foes, had driven to inside the 10 in the first half without scoring—with 5:32 available in the contest—failed on a fourth-and-four with an incomplete pass at their own 44.
1:49 later, the nail: Shiner quarterback Trevion Flowers was in huge trouble on third-and-12 from Mason's own 46. He was chased back 10 yards or so. “We should have sacked him,” sighed Smith. “We had him and let go of him.”
“We didn’t pick up the back out of the backfield,” Burns said in continuation of that half of the incident. He was talking about Evel Jones; he was open down the left sideline, and Flowers recovered to find him and throw the ball. It was a 46-yard TD. On the two plays getting so much attention, Shiner had picked up 120 of its 221 yards in total offense.
An interception led to a meaningless score by Flowers. Mason finishes 12-1 with no repeat of its state crown.
“There’s hurt and pain,” Burns acknowledged, “for the seniors because it’s over, and it’s similar for the rest, but they have more playing to do.”“They’ll work hard; they always do,” insisted Smith, concerning the future. “They’ve had a taste of Cowboys Stadium, and they want to go back.”
And Burns advised his kids: “Don’t forget the pain of losing, and don’t let a day go by that doesn’t make you a better athlete.”
“...Getting to the quarterfinals is not like we didn’t get out of district. It’s not the perfect way to end a career, but not bad, either. You have to soak in the moment and keep moving on. Other things will happen in life. This isn’t the end.” Rio Schmidt