Game of the Week

Panthers run all over Red Riders with D5 playoff points on the line

The cold chill of an autumn rain began to drench an already saturated James R. France Stadium, but it didn’t drown the festive spirit in the home grandstand on senior night. The visiting Orrville Red Riders (6-2, 4-1) jumped out to a 21-0 lead over the host Manchester Panthers (6-2, 4-1), but the Panther special teams pounced on two onside kicks in an explosive second quarter that led to 23 unanswered points in a span of 2:26, giving Manchester’s offense plenty of momentum on the way to a 67-31 victory while tying Orrville for a share of the lead in the Principals Athletic Conference season standings.

Jim France is in his 47th season at the helm of the Panther football program, and he has likely forgotten about more football than most high school coaches collectively know. With that type of experience to draw from, France and his staff were heading into this contest looking to right the ship after last week’s upset defeat at the hands of Northwest, which snapped Manchester’s 19-game PAC winning streak. The Panthers would be looking to get back to the basics with the offense pounding the ball on the ground and the defense containing Orrville’s play-makers in the form of Marquael Parks, Donoven Hall, Logan Domer, Jason Suppan or Payton Brown.

The Panthers did neither of these things until the second quarter. France had to be second guessing the readiness of his squad when he looked up at the scoreboard with Orrville holding a commanding 21-0 lead with 10:39 to go in the second quarter. Prior to that point Parks had scored three touchdowns on runs of 56 and 43 yards to go along with a score from the goal line.

Parks also was making an impact on defense with a couple of tackles for losses in the Panther backfield while the Red Rider defensive line seemed up for the challenge of containing Manchester’s talented trio of Ethan Wright, Hunter Foster and AJ Johnson.

All looked pretty bleak for Manchester after Orrville’s third scoring drive of the game. Then Foster finally broke free as he carried the ball through the heart of Orrville’s defense on the first play from scrimmage and ran 61 yards to pay dirt to finally give the Panthers something to rally around with 10:21 left in the half. Boy did Manchester rally!

On the ensuing kickoff Manchester perfectly executed an onside kick, and Wright recovered the ball while in full stride, off a single bounce, and advanced untouched 50 yards to the end zone for the shocking score (Foster scored the two-point conversion). Wright looked like he had been shot out of a cannon, and the Red Riders were caught on their heels. Orrville was stunned. Manchester had clawed their way back into the game only trailing 21-15 with 10:15 left in the second quarter. Manchester had scored 15 points in just six seconds of play.

If at first you succeed, keep doing it until they stop you. That is just what the Panthers did as Manchester booted another onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. This time the ball bounced off of a Rider, and the Panthers recovered. Given another extra possession by the Riders special teams, Manchester would take their first lead of the game just a couple of minutes later when Foster scored from 1 yard out (Foster also scored the two-point conversion). The Panthers led 23-21 with 7:54 to go in the half.

Orrville finally retained possession of a Panther kickoff, and the Red Rider offense went back to work to try and answer Manchester’s 23-point explosion. The Red Riders drove down into the red zone, but the Panther defense held their own after a Domer passing attempt to Hall in the end zone fell just a bit beyond his reach. The Riders settled for a Cain Duskey 30-yard field goal with 3:33 left in the opening half. Orrville regained the lead, 24-23.

Just as it seemed both teams would have to catch their breath before halftime, Manchester’s Wright carried the ball around the left edge and sprinted 31 yards down the sideline to cap a five-play drive (two-point conversion by Wright failed), giving the Panthers the lead for good with 1:29 remaining in the half, 29-24.

But the Manchester special teams unit wasn’t finished as they recovered their third onside kick of the quarter, and Foster scampered 40 yards to glory less than a minute later with 0:37 remaining in the half (Wright scored the two-point conversion). For those of you scoring at home, Manchester’s monster scoring output in the second stanza totaled a whopping 37 points. The Panthers went into halftime with a 37-24 lead and feeling much better about themselves while Orrville was left trying to figure out what exactly happened.

It was a Manchester track meet the rest of the way as the Panthers dominated Orrville the second half of play, outscoring the Red Riders 30-7 to close out the game behind long scoring runs by AJ Johnson (47 yards), Wright (25 and 59 yards) and Foster (40 yards). Orrville’s offense could only muster up one more scoring opportunity when Domer passed to Parks for a 23-yard scoring strike, but it was too little too late for the Red Riders.

Orrville coach Doug Davault was obviously disappointed with his team’s performance. Giving up nine touchdowns, allowing over 500 total yards, turning the ball over three times and failing to recover three onside kicks will make a coaching staff’s hair turn curly.

“I feel like if we field any of those onside kicks in the second quarter, everything turns out differently. It just snowballed on us, and we couldn’t recover. We have to get better. It shows a lack of character, a lack of discipline. That part of who we are has to get better in the next couple of weeks and heading into the playoffs. What happened tonight was ridiculous. It’s embarrassing,” Devault said.

Orrville will have to certainly regroup if the Red Riders want to make any sort of waves in the playoffs this season. It just so happens Orrville and Manchester sit in the same region for Div. V and could certainly see each other again not too far down the playoff path.

“We have to get better and improve. We cannot respond to adversity like we did tonight, and hopefully the kids will recognize what needs to be done, but things will only change if they want to change it. We haven’t had a whole lot of adversity prior to tonight, so it needs to get fixed,” Devault said.

Manchester finished with 49 rushing attempts that gouged the Rider defense for 504 yards and eight touchdowns. Foster (212 yards), Wright (205 yards) and Johnson (87 yards) were a three-headed monster in the Panther backfield. Foster also caught a pass for 19 yards. The Panthers will be back in action on Friday, Oct. 19 when they travel to Loudonville (4-4, 3-2) to continue their PAC season schedule.

Orrville’s offense ran the ball 41 times for 276 yards, led by Parks, who netted 252 yards on 20 attempts. Parks also caught four passes for 70 yards. Domer completed nine of 24 attempts through the air for 173 yards and one scoring strike to Parks. Jason Suppan finished with three catches for 64 yards. The Red Riders will look to get back to their winning ways on Friday, Oct. 19 when they travel to Fairless High School (3-5, 1-4) for a PAC showdown at 7 p.m.

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