Crimsons coast past Central in season opener

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Jailen Carter (11, #11) makes a leaping catch to score Manual’s first touchdown of the game. Photo by Kate Hatter

Jack Grossman

Jailen Carter (11, #11) makes a leaping catch to score Manual's first touchdown of the game. Photo by Kate Hatter
Jaelen Carter (11, #11) makes a leaping catch to score Manual’s first touchdown of the game. Photo by Kate Hatter

With three minutes left in the first half, the Manual offense needed a spark. The offense had come out slow, turning the ball over twice in their first two possessions. One such turnover, a fumble from receiver Jaelen Carter (11, #11), was recovered by Central and resulted in a 25-yard touchdown for Central linebacker Aaron Duncan (12, #8) and an early 7-0 lead for the Yellowjackets.

“It’s the same thing as it was last year, we just come out sluggish,” receiver Eric Niemann (12, #84) said. “We come out in warm-ups sluggish, and it continues right into the game. Our warm-ups were terrible today. That’s something we need to work on; it’s just our preparation in the beginning, and we’ll fix that.”

Now the Crimsons trailed Central 10-0, had turned the ball over a total of three times and committed more than eight penalties. Manual looked flat until Comstock found Carter for a 45-yard gain. Five plays later, Comstock again connected with Carter, this time for an 11-yard touchdown pass in which Carter made a spectacular leaping, one-handed catch.

“[Comstock] audibled the play about four times,” Carter said. “But then he audibled to me so I said, ‘Just get me the ball and I’m going to go get it for my team.’”

That drive turned all of the momentum to the Crimsons, who would go on to outscore Central 21-0 in the second half and cruise to an easy 28-10 victory.

“It changed the whole momentum,” Niemann said. “Right after that, the defense got a stop and we had all the whole momentum going into the half. Even though we were still down three, we had all of momentum.”

On the first play of the second half, Central quarterback Myron Norfleet (12, #7) fumbled and linebacker John Sneed (11, #8) recovered the ball for Manual. Sneed had a huge game for the Crimsons, finishing with two fumble recoveries and an interception, all from the second half.

“I just prepared well in practice,” Sneed said. “I go as hard as I can and then just show it in the game; that’s all I did.”

Sneed led the stout Crimson defense, which shut down the Yellowjackets for the majority of the game and only allowed a total of three points throughout the contest.

“Our defense was stingy, so that was the key,” head coach Oliver Lucas said. “The defense did a really great job.”

Omari Alexander (12, #2) forces a fumble. The Crimsons forced four turnovers in the game.
Omari Alexander (12, #2) tries to force a fumble. The Crimsons forced four turnovers in the game. Photo by Kate Hatter

“We could not get our offense working,” Central coach Ty Scroggins said. “We had our opportunities to beat them, but you have to play four quarters of football. We didn’t lay down, but our defense was on the field way too much.”

After the fumble recovery, Comstock found Niemann on a post route that looked like an easy five-yard touchdown; however, the touchdown was called back due to an illegal man downfield penalty. Pushed back to the ten-yard line, offensive coordinator Russell Rigdon decided to back to the same play, and the Crimsons again got the go-ahead score.

“I knew that I was going to be open with the defense that [Central] was in,” Niemann said. “Tim found me perfectly on the first one, and I thought it was good, but then they called the illegal receiver downfield, and I was like, ‘Run the same play, because I’m going to get into the endzone again,’ and that’s what we did and I got it in.”

The Crimsons then went to the ground game, where Reece West (12, #1) and Troy Henderson (10, #29) combined for a powerful one-two punch in the backfield. Manual’s running attack opened up in the second half, partially because the Crimsons started running the option.

Reece West (12, #1) runs past a trio of Central players. West ran for 83 yards on 19 carries in the game. Photo by Kate Hatter.
Reece West (12, #1) runs past a trio of Central players. West ran for 83 yards on 19 carries in the game. Photo by Kate Hatter.

“Running the option keeps us at a fast pace and it keeps the defense guessing, because they don’t know who to key on, me or the quarterback [Comstock],” West said.

“We use [the option game] to try to balance out our running attack,” Lucas said. “When we’re facing a nine-man front, it gives us more options to either pass the ball or run the option.”

Running back Troy Henderson (10, #29) rushes for a first down against Bowling Green. Photo by Kate Hatter
Running back Troy Henderson (10, #29) rushes for a first down against Bowling Green. Photo by Kate Hatter

Henderson led Manual’s run game with 9 rushes for 91 yards and a touchdown, while West carried the majority of the workload with 19 carries for 83 yards and a score.

However, the night was not flawless for the Crimsons. Field position hurt Manual early in the game, as the Crimsons routinely started drives inside their own 15-yard line, whereas Central’s average field position in the first half was around midfield.

“Last week we played great special teams, just this week, [Central] also has some great players on special teams,” Lucas said. “So we have to change the personnel a little bit so we’ll do that. Schematically we’re solid, we just have to take some personnel and move some people around and we’ll be okay.”

On the game, Comstock completed 13/26 passes for 174 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Carter led the Crimsons in receiving with four catches for 61 yards, a fumble and the highlight reel touchdown catch. West added three catches for 50 yards out of the backfield while Niemann had four receptions for 41 yards.

Manual (1-0) will have its first road test next week against Fern Creek, who defeated Seneca 42-0 Friday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm at Fern Creek.