Coming into Friday’s game 2-0, L.C. Bird was still considered one of the top teams in the region, dispatching Thomas Dale rather handily and defeating George Wythe 42-0. L.C. Bird would face a familiar opponent in the Manchester Lancers. One of the best teams in the Dominion outside of Bird last year, Manchester lost a lot of seniors and had holes to fill. Despite this, the Lancers were able to keep up with Bird, and then responded each time Bird rallied to upset the Skyhawks 21-13.
“We had all kinds of opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of tonight,” said head coach David Bedwell. “They were more ready and they wanted it more; this is a learning experience.”
With rain battering the county for most of the day Friday, the field was not in the best of conditions to say the least. The sideline looked like a mud-wrestling pit and the ground offered little to no traction when changing direction, even with cleats. The two teams struggled to a 0-0 draw at the half. While Bird was able to move the ball at times, a combination of Manchester stops, penalties and the weather kept them from the end zone.
On a patented Johnson stretch play, he beat the defenders on the first few steps heading up-field towards the sideline, and while turning to run up the sideline, he slipped, falling out of bounds.
Typically, Johnson would have streaked to pay dirt on a play similar to this one, but the game endured a scoreless first half. Also it was a slow half for Johnson by his normal standards, as the weather and a staunch Manchester defense held him to 50 first-half yards.
“He’s a great running back, probably one of the best in the state,”
said senior linebacker Jake Marten. “We attacked him on defense as a team,” he explained. “If you stop Yahkee Johnson, it slows down of lot of what Bird does.”
The Skyhawks found their stride on the first drive of the second half as Johnson gained 46 yards on the drive via a pass and a run to set up a 13-yard touchdown run. Bird led 7-0.
Minutes later, the Lancers responded as Deshaun Amos returned the opening kickoff 80 yards, virtually untouched up the visiting sideline. Bird was able to shift the momentum back quickly, as the extra point attempt was blocked by a host of Skyhawks.
Bird would quickly answer the score with another of their own as after two healthy runs by Johnson to soften the defense; then he broke away on a 41-yard touchdown run. A missed extra point gave Bird the lead again at 13-6.
However, on the very next drive, it would be the Lancers yet again.
Quarterback Brandon Allen would hit Craig Eddings across the middle for a 44-yard touchdown strike, and Eddings would also convert the two point conversion on a crafty direct snap to wrestle the lead back at 14-13.
On Bird’s next drive, Aaron Filler would throw a pick to senior defensive back Steven White, off this drive Manchester would score on their third consecutive drive, set up by another nice catch by Eddings, as Carlos Morales rumbled up the home sideline to score on a 10-yard run, extending the lead to where it stood as a final, 21-13.
The Skyhawks would threaten, but would have a drive stopped by another interception; Bird would have one last chance, forcing and recovering a fumble to give them one last opportunity with 1:44 left in the game. After a 15-yard quarterback run by Fuller and a couple of incomplete passes, it left Bird with a 4th and 2 situation with a minute to play. Johnson ran out to the right, and was stopped after a short gain. Much to the chagrin of the Bird sideline, it appeared that the spot was short, securing the win for Manchester.
“It might be an upset in the paper tomorrow,” said Marten. “But on our team and on our practice field we don’t consider anything an upset.”
Johnson did finish the game with his normal helping of yards with 230, having a huge second half on the ground, and scored Bird’s only two touchdowns of the game. Early penalties and second-half turnovers really cost the Skyhawks when it counted the most.
“Every time something happened, the attitude on the sideline was great,” said Manchester head coach Tom Hall. “It was always, we need to respond, we need to get back at them,” he continued. “It was neat to watch them grow up on the field.”
Manchester was led on defense by Marten, who recorded 16 tackles, and Jevon Booth, who recorded 15 tackles. Steven White had two interceptions. Offensively, Brandon Allen made timely and key throws for the Lancers when the run game was stopped by the Bird defense.
The Lancers, after a bye week, will face another tough challenge in Clover Hill while Bird will face a good James River team this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at home. Bird fell to 2-1 on the season, and Manchester improved to 2-2. It was the first district game for both teams. The loss for Bird in district should make the playoff picture more interesting for other contenders like Clover Hill, James River and Manchester. Bird will need to rebound quickly and avoid another loss.
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