By Conor Walsh
---- — MANCHESTER — It wasn’t the kind of season the Manchester Essex football team had hoped for.
But as the Hornets mulled around Hyland Field after yesterday’s 27-12 win over Georgetown, the memories of a difficult campaign were all forgotten.
Thanksgiving has a way of doing that.
The Hornets put together their most complete performance of the season, riding strong defense and the play of co-captains Cory Burnham and John Beardsley to a resounding victory in the final game in a Hornets’ uniform for a14-member senior class.
”They played well,” coach Mike Athanas said. “As a whole we played well. We made some stops today which we haven’t been able to do consistently and that was nice, and it’s a tough day. Some of these guys aren’t every going to play again, so it’s a tough day for them, but Thanksgiving’s a fun day when you win and it makes it a lot easier when you win the game.”
While the visiting Royals (1-10, 0-5 NEC/CAL Tier 4) forced the Hornets to go three-and-out and got on the board first with a touchdown run by quarterback Jackson Fritz early in the first quarter, it was clear from the start that Manchester Essex was the better team.
The Hornets were crisp offensively, dominating the line of scrimmage and piling up nearly 300 yards of offense. Perhaps more impressive was the Hornets’ defense, which moved on from its season-long struggles to get off the field to hold a young Georgetown squad to just 12 points.
As so often happens in Thanksgiving rivalry games, yesterday’s matchup had its fair share of quirky plays. Two Beardsley touchdowns were negated, one by a penalty and one by a mistaken incomplete call by the officials.
A 60-yard touchdown reception by Georgetown’s Colby Ingraham (157 total yards) was overturned after he stepped out of bounds at the five-yard line, and the Royals were unable to punch in from there.
Another red zone trip for Georgetown was washed away when Beardsley intercepted a Fritz pass in the end zone.
And the Hornets’ highlight of the season — the second of Beardsley’s negated touchdowns — was inadvertently blown dead.
On that play, Burnham dropped back, bounced a lateral pass to running back Chris Dumont, who scooped the ball up and heaved it to Beardsley.
Were the play not called an incomplete pass by the officials — when, in reality, the ball was still live since it wasn’t a forward pass — it would have been a highlight-reel 66-yard touchdown.
Despite the bizarre nature of the game, though, the Hornets (3-8, 2-3 NEC/CAL Tier 4) were able to stay consistent. Behind the play Burnham (203 total yards, three touchdowns), Beardsley (40 receiving yards, touchdown) and Dumont (45 rushing yards, touchdown), the Hornets notched a touchdown in each quarter to cruise to a decisive season-ending win.
”Couldn’t have gone better,” Burnham said. “Everybody did their jobs. We just went all out, that’s what it’s all about. Thanksgiving, we’ll remember this one forever.”
”I liked the way our kids played,” Georgetown coach Paul Sobolewski added. “It’s been a tough year and we’ve had a lot of injuries, but they battled this team. We played a complete game but they were the better team. I give credit to Manchester Essex and Coach Athanas. It’s a good rivalry and we’ll be back for them next year.”
At the end of the day, it was the perfect sendoff for the Hornets’ seniors. The disappointment of the season washed away by a win in the finale, the Hornets were all smiles as they gathered with friends and family in the end zone, together as a team for the final time.
And while they savored their final moments together, there was already a feeling that the Hornets were looking ahead to next season.
”It’s great that we won but it’s also sad,” Beardsley said. “Never going to be on this field with these guys again, so that kind of stinks, but hopefully they can come out next year and do better than we did this year.”