No. 1 Mason Making Quiet March Through Playoffs
MASON, TX-- After practice and between interviews on Wednesday, no. 1-ranked Mason Puncher head football coach Kade Burns told his senior quarterback Otto Wofford he was on the verge of breaking a 102-year-old school passing record.
Wofford took it in stride, not deviating away from their team goal of beating Wallis Brazos in the regional semifinals.
“The expectations are high. Our kids understand that,” Burns said. “They’ve earned the right through previous years’ success to have high expectations. They work hard. They do the things on the field that we want them to do and our community expects.”
That’s how Mason has gotten this far. They’ve remained focused because of a sour taste left in their mouth during the 2017 regional final against Refugio.
“As soon as that game was over, that was what our mind was set on for this year,” Wofford said. “When coach put up the new schedule with all the big name 3A teams, we knew why we were playing them. We know who they’re for and which games we’re gonna have to win to make the big show in Dallas.”
Burns laid down a gauntlet of a schedule for his Punchers. They opened with a 27-21 win over perennial 3A power Wall. That started five consecutive games against bigger opponents.
“It was important for us. We wanted to schedule tough nondistrict competition,” Burns said. “We were able to do that. All five of them were 3A teams and two of them are still playing football right now. It was one of those things where we could go 5-0, 0-5 or 2-3, whatever it may be. We wanted to get our kids ready for district and the postseason. We feel like being in those close games, being in those tighter games in the nondistrict will hopefully help us understand what it takes to be successful when we get in that situation again.”
After that Wall game, Mason regained their dominant form from last year, allowing an average of 4.2 points per game in their next 11 contests with four shutouts.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” junior Klay Klaerner said. “Our front line, they get a lot of enjoyment out of pressuring quarterbacks and stopping the run game and opening it up for us linebackers, too.”
Klaerner and Jake Cockerham get a lot of the attention on the defensive side of the ball, despite the quiet work their defensive line does. Klaerner says their success comes from the defensive line making them “look good.” That same defense bailed the Punchers out against Weimar after committing five turnovers.
But defense isn’t what’s different about this team. Last year, they were allowing 3.4 points per game with six shutouts heading into the regional final.
Rather, their offense is more explosive than in years past. That’s come from Mason having a three-headed monster in the backfield with Cockerham, Klaerner and Wofford keeping defenses honest.
“Klay does a great job of running the ball when he gets his shots,” Wofford praised. “So, they don’t really know when we’re running it or throwing it. We’ve got a couple of threats that can run the ball and we take our shots throwing it. So, they have to prepare for a hard-nosed, 200-pound dude running the ball or a dropback pass. It’s hard to decipher what we’re gonna do.”
However, Burns credits the offense’s success to the work done in the trenches.
“There’s a lot of things that go into that,” Burns added. “We’ve gotta be able to pick up blitzes and run block when we’re running the ball … There’s a lot that goes into having an explosive offense.”
The Punchers won 35-6 last week against Weimar, but are still unhappy with how they played because of five turnovers. They get a 7-4 Wallis Brazos team this week who knocked off Holland (10-2) in the Area Round.
To get past the Cougars, Mason knows they have to put the game and Brazos away early.
“When you get into the third round, the teams just get bigger and better and quicker and more explosive,” Burns said. “Brazos is an extremely well-coached team. They tackle the football a lot and they try to get a lot of turnovers, they force a lot of turnovers.”
At the end of the regular season, Brazos lost their starting quarterback. Normally, that would doom a team. Instead they moved their top receiver behind center and their offense has taken off. They’ve scored an average of 41 points in their two playoff games.
“They put in the guy they were trying to throw the ball to. Now he gets to touch the ball every snap at quarterback,” Burns said. “He is extremely explosive with the football. They’re really dynamic in their offense. They have tremendous speed in the skill positions. It’s a really tall order all the way around. Those same guys on offense turn around and play on defense. So, it’s gonna be important for us to do the things that we do to be successful.”
Mason will take on Brazos from Converse Judson’s D.W. Rutledge Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.