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Hamilton sneaks past Mason with ground-and-pound approach

HAMILTON — Malik Verdon made it sound so easy after the game.

“All I know is, I was just following (lead blocker Keyshawn Stephens),” he said. “I saw a little cut up field, so I cut it, made a little spin, bounced off some tackles and just kept going forward.”

Well, Verdon kept going forward until he found the end zone.

His 18-yard run put Hamilton ahead of the Mason Comets for good Friday night, as the Big Blue won 12-7 at Virgil Schwarm Stadium.

“I’m just proud of these guys,” Hamilton head coach Nate Mahon said. “We haven’t beaten Mason in 10 years, and boy oh boy, it feels good. Nothing but the utmost respect for their program and who they are and (Comets coach Brian Castner) and what they stand for.”

It wasn’t pretty, but that’s OK for Mahon, Verdon and the Big Blue. They don’t mind.

“It means that much to beat them and play the smart football game I keep selling,” Mahon said. “It’s not beautiful, but run the ball, stop the run, play good defense. Playing clean football wins, guys. I don’t care about a crazy, sexy offense. Just run the ball and stop the run. That wins games.”

Hamilton had to play that way after its starting quarterback, Quincy Simms-Marshall, went down with an injury late in the first quarter. He did not return to the game, but Mahon said he’ll be “fine.”

Despite normally playing wide receiver and defensive back, Verdon replaced Simms-Marshall and led the Big Blue to their first lead of the game — 3-0 on a 40-yard field goal by Erik Rios — in the second quarter.

With two minutes left in the period, Mason capped a long drive with a 7-yard quarterback keeper by Michael Molnar to take the lead.

Rios added another field goal as the first half ended, but the Comets held a 7-6 advantage at intermission.

Neither team scored in the third, but their defenses battled.

“Just bend but don’t break,” Mahon said. “They’ve got to score the football. They didn’t score the football, so they didn’t win. They can move the ball all they want, but you don’t get points for moving the ball in between the goal lines. You’ve got to score.”

In the middle of the fourth quarter, Hamilton assembled its best drive of the night. The Big Blue used eight plays — seven runs — to slice through the Comets’ defense. Verdon finished it by cutting to the left side, spinning and breaking two tackles before falling into the end zone.

Hamilton went for two but failed on the conversion attempt. It led 12-7 with four minutes remaining.

On their final possession, the Comets returned the kickoff past their own 35. They quickly advanced past midfield and set up a second-and-9 from Hamilton’s 43. 

Molnar looked deep and hit Brett Wexelblatt’s fingertips with a pass, but it was just a little too long. On third down, Molnar surveyed the right side of the field again, but his throw sailed and was almost picked off.

Left with no choice, Mason kept its offense on the field on fourth down, and Molnar was sacked by Jordan Jones and Gabe Verdon, Malik’s younger brother.

“Can’t believe we sacked him,” Mahon said. “Unbelievable. What a sack.”

The Big Blue (3-2) drained the clock and killed the Comets’ (4-1) undefeated start to the season.

Malik Verdon fired only four passes but made an impact on the ground, with 12 rushes for 78 yards and a score. Keyshawn Stephens recorded 20 carries for 113 yards.

For Mason, Nolan McCormick was the offensive star, tallying 22 carries for 97 yards.

Next Friday, both teams draw tough assignments in their regular-season finales. Hamilton travels to Colerain, and the Comets visit Lakota West. Both games kick off at 7 p.m.

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