Grant powers Indians past MC in District quarters
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
In the three-plus decades that Mike Williams has been head coach of the Manheim Central football team, the Barons have certainly had a slew of excellent athletes.
The one thing that they probably haven’t had in those 32 years is the speed that they saw from Susquehanna Township running back Colby Grant last Friday night.
"(Grant) is quite a player," Williams remarked. "He’s got so much speed."
The Indians’ 5-foot-9 jitterbug took advantage of that speed to account for 276 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns while leading 3rd-seeded Susquehanna Township to a 27-17 victory over 11th-ranked Manheim Central in a District Three Triple-A quarterfinal-round playoff game at Roscoe Warner Field in Harrisburg.
Both squads entered the game riding a win streak, but while the Indians (10-2) punched their ticket to this Friday’s semi-final round against 2nd-seeded West York (a 42-17 winner over Spring Grove) with their seventh straight victory, the Barons saw their five-game streak come to a halt. Central (9-3) was also trying to reach double-digit victories for the first time since advancing to the PIAA State Triple-A championship game in 2009, but Williams said they just lost to a better team.
"The speed was really remarkably different and we just got a lot of pressure on us and got a little flustered there," Williams remarked. "We had our chances … They exploited some of our weaknesses. But I’m proud of our team for what they did."
The 27 points that Manheim Central allowed was its most since suffering a 48-35 loss to Cocalico in week six, but it was also a touchdown less than Susquehanna Township’s season-average of 33.4 points per game.
"I figured if we could hold them to 27, we’ve got a shot to win it," Williams said. "But we didn’t take advantage of all our opportunities."
Indeed. The Barons twice moved the ball inside Susquehanna Township’s 10-yard line when they managed to come away with just three points. The first of those opportunities came after Manheim Central received the opening kickoff and marched 65 yards to the Indians’ two-yard line. But Susquehanna Township dodged the scare as junior defensive back Takhi Turner jumped in front of a jump pass from QB Colin Fry (8-of-21, 78 yards, 2 INT’s, 1 TD) and pirated the ball in the end zone for an Indians’ touchback.
"I think we have a good offense and we wanted to show it and I think that first drive we had was an excellent drive. It was a great drive," Williams said. "Just maybe a bad call. You just regret the call. You just think of what other teams are watching – if I were watching us on tape, we had two guys stacked, we ran a power play, we ran it 25 times (this season) and you think, ‘They’re going to bite on that.’ But second guessing, maybe we should have ran it first and see what that guy was going to do, but we didn’t."
‘Hanna’s offense, meanwhile, went three-and-out on its first possession, but the Indians cashed in on their next opportunity. Starting from its own 30, Susquehanna Township converted on back-to-back third-down attempts, and then on his third carry of the drive, Grant went around left end and it was off to the races, as he sprinted 39 yards to paydirt to put his team up 7-0 with 2:12 left in the first. Grant led all ball carriers with 175 yards on 17 carries.
"I thought our kids played hard … You’ve got a kid who runs a five-flat (second) 40 running against a 4.3 kid, chances are that 4.3 kid is going to get away a few times," Williams said. "They’ve got some talented players."
To Central’s credit, knowing they would have to answer Susquehanna Township’s scores with one of their own, they were up to the challenge on their ensuing series. With junior Marc Royer (16 carries, 67 yards) and junior Ian Hanselman (16-89 rushing) handling the bulk of the load, the Barons drove from their own 30 inside the Indians’ red zone. Finally, Fry called his own number and scored on a two-yard run off right tackle with 8:37 left in the half to cap the 11-play drive and then Evan Stauffer followed with the PAT to pull the Barons even, 7-all.
The tie score didn’t last long, however, as the Indians answered just over two minutes later when senior wide receiver Jordan Banks found an extra gear to run under a pass from QB Jordan Taskerville (4-6-0, 77 yards) for a 45-yard strike down the left sideline. When kicker Nick Trovalli’s kick glanced off the upright, however, keeping the score at 13-7, the Barons saw an opening.
And the visitors capitalized on their next opportunity, when Fry found senior wide receiver Cole Proffitt (3 catches, 18 yards) on a crossing pattern for a four-yard TD pass, capping a 13-play, 63-yard scoring drive with just 46.8 seconds remaining in the half. Then after Stauffer followed with another PAT, the Barons seemed headed toward taking a one-point lead into the locker room.
Grant and the Indians, however, had other ideas.
The senior speedster settled under the Barons’ kickoff at the 21-yard line, broke to his left, squeezed through the smallest of openings and went the distance, scoring on a momentum-turning 79-yard kickoff return to give the Indians a lead they never lost, 20-14, with 36.0 ticks remaining in the half.
"Giving up that kickoff, we wanted to pop it up in the air, kick it short, go down and cover it. Simple as that," Williams said. "What did we do? We kick it short and we don’t tackle anybody. And we had him pinned on the sideline. There was hardly any room for him on the sideline … We go in 14-13 at half and it might be a different game."
Unfortunately for the Barons, the hole got a bit deeper early in the second half, again courtesy of Grant. On the second play from scrimmage after ‘Hanna received the kickoff, Grant started left, found an opening and tip-toed the left sideline as he raced 72 yards for a touchdown. Trovalli’s PAT made it 27-14 with just 1:02 elapsed in the half.
"I think as far as containing him, we only (allowed) the one long run that I recall," Williams said. "Our defensive backs didn’t come up and make a play. We were concerned about them throwing the ball over our heads and so we were reluctant to come up and then we let them block us. We didn’t come up and make a play."
Susquehanna Township, meanwhile, made some defensive adjustments and allowed the Barons only three first downs following the intermission. Overall, Manheim Central gained just 12 of its 215 total yards in the second half and its best drive came after junior defensive back Nick Brubaker recovered a fumble by Jordan Millberry at the Indians’ 46-yard line. Fry completed back-to-back passes to junior tight end Taylor Geib (4-56 receiving) to give the Barons a first-and-goal from the ‘Hanna six. Three plays later, however, after Royer recovered a loose ball resulting from a botched pitch, the Barons had to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Stauffer with 3:19 left in the third which cut the Indians’ advantage to 27-17.
"The (Susquehanna Township) pass rush hurt us," Williams said. "We were afraid to go back and pass. On film, they were very good at pass rushing and they sacked Cedar Cliff’s quarterback seven or eight times (in a 30-28 win), so we were a little reluctant to do that. We didn’t have a lot of time to throw the ball and of course, they have really superior talent there covering our guys in man to man coverage."
That would be the last time Manheim Central advanced into Susquehanna Township territory, as its next three possessions ended three-and-out and the Indians held on for the victory.
"We’re proud of our team," Williams said. "Our kids put in so much time and effort. I’m disappointed in the loss, but proud of what they accomplished … We have a lot of kids returning next year, so we’ll remember this loss tonight, believe me." More BARONS, page B-4