R/W Week: Manual thrives in underdog role against Male

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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

“No matter what the records are,” Manual Head Coach Oliver Lucas said, “it really doesn’t matter when it comes to Male/Manual because we’re talking about 100 years of history.”

Jailen Carter (11, #11) makes a leaping catch to score Manual's first touchdown of the game. Photo by Kate Hatter
Jailen Carter (11, #11) makes a leaping catch to for an 11 yard touchdown against Central. Photo by Kate Hatter.

Even though Manual (7-1, 2-1 in District 3) has put up a third consecutive strong season, the sixth ranked Crimsons have not faced a team with as much sheer talent as top-ranked Male (8-0, 3-0 in District 3). Coming into the game, few outside the Crimson locker room give Manual much of a chance to make the game close, much less win.

The Bulldogs come into the 133rd edition of The Old Rivalry with with an astounding resumé. Male has won their eight games this season by an average of 41.375 points per game. These include wins over St. X and Trinity, schools that most consider to be first rate in Kentucky. Male escaped the Tigers last Friday in a 27-24 win, and the Bulldogs thumped the Shamrocks 42-13 back on Sept. 11. The Trinity win is part of the reason that Male has risen to a ranking as high as #13 nationally. Male has won eight of their past nine games against the duo of Catholic powerhouses.

Manual, on the other hand, has struggled at times during the season. The peak of the Crimsons’ challenges came in a 27-6 blowout against St. X on Oct. 9, which extended the school’s 27 game losing streak against the Tigers. Without a marquee victory, Manual has not proven itself to be able to knock off the more proven Bulldogs.

In recent years, however, Manual has put up a formidable fight against Male. The Crimsons have won four out of the last five and six of the last eight games against the Bulldogs. In almost all of those matchups, Male came into the game as the heavy favorite. For whatever reason, the Crimsons just pair well with the Bulldogs.

“Sometimes teams are made for you,” Lucas said. “For whatever reason we just match up well with them. Because of that, it’s always going to be a war; it’s never going to be a blowout.”

For Manual to pull off an upset this year, they will have to be close to flawless.

“We just have to get off the ball,” defensive linemen Derek Dorsey (12, #92) said. “We have to have good hand-placement and do our assignments/techniques so that we know what we’re supposed to be doing at all times.”

Manual’s first task is to give itself a chance to win. Male is notorious for its quick starts and ability to get up by multiple scores in the opening minutes, as evidenced by the fact that the Bulldogs have outscored opponents 170-13 in the first quarter this season. In their matchups against the Catholic powerhouses, the Bulldogs were able to jump out to a 14-0 start against Trinity and build up a 20-0 lead against St. X.

Tim Comstock (12, #3) throws a complete pass to Jalen Carter. Photo by Kate Hatter
Tim Comstock (12, #3) attempts a pass against PRP. Comstock has thrown eight touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. Photo by Kate Hatter.

On the other hand, Manual has struggled to start games efficiently this season. The Crimsons have fallen behind by multiple scores in the first half in three games this season, including a 17 point deficit against St. X at halftime two weeks ago. Against Male, Manual has fallen behind 14-0 early in the first quarter in each of the past two seasons. Even though the Crimsons battled back to win the game two years ago and almost pulled off the last-second comeback last season, Manual cannot afford to fall behind early again.

“When you look at Male, they are a team that likes to pressure you,” Lucas said. “I like to consider them as front runners. When they’re up on you, and momentum is sitting on their bench, they’re in attack mode. So we need to get the momentum on our side.”

In the 2014 matchup, quarterback Tim Comstock (12, #3) had a career game, throwing for a school record 471 yards and three touchdowns, and playing a turnover-free game. Comstock comes into this year’s game with recent struggles similar to the challenges he had last year. On the season, Comstock has completed just over 52 percent of his pass attempts, and has thrown eight touchdowns with nine interceptions, as well as four lost fumbles, per Maxpreps.

“I need to study their weaknesses and execute,” Comstock said. “I just have to know every player on their team and know what their weaknesses are, and know our match-ups. If we do that, we’ll do great like we did last year.”

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

Manual will also need to effectively run the ball. In last year’s game, the Crimsons lost 27 yards on the ground due to Male loading anywhere from eight to nine men inside the tackle box. The Bulldogs will try to shut down the trio of Reece West (12, #1), Andre Teague (11, #6) and Troy Henderson (10, #29) —as well as a running quarterback in Comstock—by once again stacking the box to try to make Manual beat them in the air.

“We have a whole different aspect at running back this year,” Comstock said. “We have a three-headed monster of Troy, Andre and Reece, so we have a lot of things that we can do on the field.”

Due to injuries, the Crimsons will turn to defensive linemen Sean Cleasant (11, #98) and Dorsey to play the line on both sides of the ball and try to get more of a push up front.

“We got Derek and Sean playing offensive line now,” Comstock said. “So that will help us get a push on the line and make plays.”

“Everyone’s been working hard to try to understand the steam of things,” Dorsey said. “It hurts us a lot, but we still have to execute the way we need to, even with the substitutes.”

Comstock will also play both ways, getting some looks at safety on the defensive side of the ball.

“We’re fine with it,” Comstock said. “We’re the most in-shape team in Louisville, so we’re not going to be fazed by that; we’re ready for anything.”

The Crimson defense faces an even taller task, as they will have to shut down the most prolific offense in the state.

“Defensively our kids have played well; that’s who we are, it’s our mark,” Lucas said. “If we’re going to win this thing, it’ll be with our defense, because our defense has been stellar; they have been stout.”

One of the main keys for the Crimson defense is to slow down Male’s short passing game, which Male uses to set up its big, home run type plays. Spearheaded by U of L signee Keion Wakefield, (12, #11), the Bulldogs have some of the fastest receivers in Kentucky.

Bryce Cosby (11, #7) prepares to take down one of the Tigers in the second half. Photo by Kate Hatter
Cornerback Bryce Cosby (11, #7) prepares to take down a St. X player. Photo by Kate Hatter.

“If we react quickly to where they’re running, we’ll play a lot better,” Dorsey said. “But I think we have the best DBs in the state, and I think that they’ll do a great job against their receivers.”

If the Crimsons can keep the game close, Lucas thinks that Manual’s experience in winning close games, as well as Male’s lack of skill in the same regard, can give his team an advantage.

“If you haven’t been in a fight, you really can’t take a punch,” Lucas said. “Our kids have been tough enough and resilient enough, so that when they get punched in the mouth or knocked down, our kids get back up and have learned to seize the moment.”

The 133rd edition of The Old Rivalry will take place Friday night at 7:30 p.m. within the friendly confines of Manual Stadium.

For more coverage of the game, stay tuned to CSPN Gameday, which will be broadcast live from Manual’s gym tomorrow afternoon. Just visit redwhiteweek.com at 12:50 p.m. tomorrow to tune into the action.

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