As Alex Mason cradled the Virginia AAA Division 6 title trophy against his chest after Hylton's 28-27 victory over Varina tonight, the expression on his face was one of relief. Mason's performance was a microcosm of his team's roller-coaster game.
"It was like a dramatic movie, this game," the senior wide receiver/defensive back said of his team's 20-point comeback and his personal victory.
Mason was narrowly beaten by Varina's speedy DeAndre Mickleberry on the Blue Devils' first touchdown. Combined with the Bulldogs' four first-half turnovers, it appeared that Mason's mistake might be the start of a Blue Devils blowout.
But he atoned for it and made two plays that propelled the Bulldogs' comeback, and one play that preserved the victory and Hylton's second consecutive state title.
Mason blocked the extra pointon Varina's second touchdown, returned a kickoff for a score and deflected a deep pass intended for Mickleberry on what would be Varina's final play from scrimmage.
"Of course, when something bad happens, you're going to get down on yourself," Mason said. "But I had to keep my head up. I had to keep driving away at it. I had to look above that. This is the state title game."
With 3 minutes 10 seconds to play in a scoreless first quarter, Mickleberry beat Mason by barely a step for an 18-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Varina lead. Mason couldn't have been expected to have better coverage, but on a one-on-one play like that, the blame was isolated on him.
"He was all down after the first touchdown," said Mason's defensive backfield mate, D.J. Walton. "He was walking around with a big chip on his shoulder. But I know Alex, and I know he wasn't going to let it bother him too long."
After Lamont Abrams scored on a 37-yard run to make it 13-0, Mason wouldn't be bothered any longer. As the Varina kicking team came on for the extra point, Mason knew this was his time to turn things around. Charging around the right end, he dove in front of Varina kicker Brian Stainker and blocked the extra point. It was a play that would haunt the Blue Devils.
"That was what got things turned around for us," Walton said, recalling Hylton's loss in the 1995 title game to Indian River, which kicked a game-winning field goal. "Every week it seems special teams wind up deciding the game."
On the ensuing kickoff, Mason and Walton were back deep for the return. Walton figured he would take the kick. That was until the ball was about to come down.
"I was going to catch it, but he stepped in front of me," Walton said, smiling. "So I said to myself, 'Man, I hope he knows what he's going to do with it.' And, you see, he knew what to do."
Ninety-one yards later, it was apparent by his trot into the end zone that Mason knew exactly what to do. At 13-7, the Bulldogs were right back in it.
"I followed the assignments, just like everyone else did tonight," Mason said. "Then I saw one hole, then another, and then another. As I scored, it was just a wonderful feeling.
"It's an emotional place where everyone wants to be."
But it was only appropriate that Mason's true vindication came against the one who beat him at the start of the game.
With 3:30 to play, Hylton leading 28-27 and Varina setting up for a fourth-and-17 play at the Hylton 44, Mason knew a pass was coming. And he figured Varina would go after the man they had beaten earlier.
"I knew they were going to come back at me," Mason said. "So I took a couple of steps off the line. [Defensive backs] Chris [Fields] and D.J. were going to come help me, and I needed it. It hit my finger and I prayed that it would hit the ground right away. Once it did, man, I felt good."
NO. 2 HYLTON 28,
V--Mickleberry 28 pass from Robinson (Stainker kick)
V--Abrams 37 run (kick failed)
H--Mason 91 kickoff return (Wilfong kick)
V--Lutz 3 run (Stainker kick)
V--Lutz 2 run (Stainker kick)
H--Simpson 40 pass from Irby (Wilfong kick)
H--Irby 2 run (Wilfong kick)
H--Brooks 30 pass from Irby (Wilfong kick), 4:29
RUSHING--Hylton: Irby 7-34, Walton 9-25, DeDe 2-3, Kaminski 5-12, Fields 2-11, Beltran 2-4; Varina: Abrams 23-115, Lutz 11-34, Robinson 13-31, Mickleberry 1-2, Cuffey 1-(-6).
PASSING--Hylton: Irby 5-14-1 141, Walton 0-1-1 0; Varina: Robinson 2-7-1 36.
RECEIVING--Hylton: Fields 1-9, Walton 1-12, Mason 1-50, Simpson 1-40, Brooks 1-30; Varina: Mickleberry 1-28, Hatcher 1-8.