Three of the past four seasons, Falls Church school George Mason has entered its late-fall game against Manassas Park with an unbeaten Bull Run District record, only to lose to the Cougars.
That, in part, explains the nature of Manassas Park Coach Jeff Lloyd's relationship with Mustangs Coach Tom Horn.
"Tom and I are pretty good friends," Lloyd said, "except for one Friday night a year."
The Friday night in question this season is tomorrow, when the Cougars aim for an eighth straight win in the series, a 23rd straight victory overall, a 26th straight home win and a 33rd straight regular season victory.
Streaks aside, the primary goal is to win the Virginia A Bull Run title and lock up an automatic Region B playoff berth. Manassas Park (8-0, 3-0) closes out the regular season next week against struggling Rappahannock (0-8); George Mason (6-2, 3-0) will have to play Strasburg (4-4).
Lloyd acknowledges that sometimes it can be difficult to motivate his players when facing a team none of them have lost to during their varsity careers. But motivation should not be a problem this week. Not only have the Mustangs played blowout-prone Manassas Park close -- two of the past three meetings have been decided by two touchdowns -- but it could be a must-win game for the Cougars, despite their unbeaten record.
In loaded Region B Division 2 lurks Gretna (8-0) of the Dogwood District, Goochland (8-0) of the James River District and Wilson Memorial (7-1) of the Shenandoah District.
If the season ended today, those three and Manassas Park would be the four region playoff representatives in Division 2, which would squeeze out Chatham (7-1), whose only loss was 35-34 last week to Gretna. Gretna has won 36 consecutive games and nabbed the past two Virginia AA Division 3 state titles before dropping to Division 2 this season.
George Mason's losses have been to Goochland and Stonewall Jackson-Quicksburg (6-2).
"There's a very good possibility in our region that someone won't get in that will be 9-1," Lloyd said. "Our kids know the importance of this. . . . For all intents and purposes, this is a playoff game, and we have to approach it that way."
The Cougars know something about taking a serious approach. They did a lot of growing up two weeks ago when they needed to stop a two-point conversion attempt in the final seconds to survive a 27-26 district win at Clarke County, a team they had dominated the previous three years.
Manassas Park bounced back so resoundingly last week in a 44-8 win at Madison County that Madison personnel told Lloyd afterward that it was the most physical Cougars team they had ever encountered. Manassas Park committed just one penalty and scored two defensive touchdowns, on a 20-yard interception return by senior Raphael Rigaud and a 67-yard fumble return by senior Todd Smoot, both in the second quarter. Rigaud also had 121 receiving yards on all four completions from senior Jay Terrell.
"For me personally, it kind of reinforced what I was trying to get across" all last week, Lloyd said. "I think the close call kind of opened our kids' eyes and I think we really got back to fundamentals and expectations that things will be done a certain way here or you're not going to play. Our kids really bought into that and understand that.
"I think our kids are excited about playing this weekend and the implications of the game. As I told the kids [Monday] in practice: We shouldn't have any deer-in-the-headlights look, because we've been there before. That's one of the advantages that we have."