MANCHESTER-- Manchester Essex head football coach Mike Athanas praised his team for improving each week and learning how to win tight football games.
In Friday’s Cape Ann League Small tilt with Amesbury at Hyland Field, the Hornets improvements and ability to win tight football games was on full display. Manchester Essex erased Amesbury leads on three occasions and Chris Dumont’s one yard touchdown plunge with 47 seconds to play gave it a 22-18 win.
The win moves the Hornets record to 4-3 and propels them into the Division 5 North playoffs, their first round opponent and seed have yet to be determined. Amesbury falls to 3-4 with the loss and must watch the scoreboard over the weekend to learn its postseason fate.
“We’ve been getting better every week and we’re learning how to win football games and that was one today,” Athanas said. “It was a big win in a big game.”
Hornets senior captain Nate Riehl was also quick to praise his teammates for not giving up, even after falling behind 12-0 in the first half.
“They put up those two scores early and we were worried a little, but nobody got down on themselves and nobody gave up,” Riehl said. “We just kept fighting to the end and we made some big plays in the fourth quarter. It feels great to get into the playoffs.”
It was a total team effort for the Hornets Friday night as everybody who stepped on the field made a key play. Dumont had a pair of touchdown runs and he, along with Riehl and Craig Carter, kept the Indians defense on their heels with an effective running attack. Doug Rodier knocked the ball out of an Amesbury running back’s hands inside the five yard line and Liam Logue made the recovery to thwart a touchdown. Seth Cohen had an interception and a fumble recovery on back-to-back drives and the Hornets offensive line grew stronger as the game wore on.
Amesbury’s Ben Cullen gave the Indians an 18-14 lead with 6:54 to play but the Hornets did not quit.
The Indians forced a three-and-out on Manchester Essex’s next drive and looked to chew some clock. Facing a fourth-and-inches at the Hornets 35 with under three minutes to play, the defense led by Rodier and Steve Remsen, stopped the Indians short of a first down and got the ball back with 2:52 on the clock.
“That’s a huge play to stop them there,” Athanas said. “The defense has been playing well all year and we have been working off of that. You could see the momentum swing on our bench after that stop.”
From there Dumont, Riehl and Carter each made nice runs to get a first down. Carter hit John Bruce down the middle of the field for a 20 yard gain down to the Indians 31 and ran 16 yards to the 15 on the next play.
A Cohen reception brought Manchester Essex to the one yard line with under a minute to play and Dumont finished off the drive and Carter converted the two-point try to give the Hornets a 22-18 lead.
Amesbury’s last ditch effort, a hail mary pass from the Hornets 37 yard line, fell short and Manchester Essex preserved the victory.
The game did not start off all that well for the Hornets as Amesbury came out fired up on both sides of the ball, building a 12-0 lead in the middle of the second.
Pat Scanlon’s 20 yard reception from Mac Short made it 6-0 and the Hornets were stricken with a bit of misfortune on Amesbury’s second score. The Manchester Essex secondary broke up a pass in the middle of the field at the five yard line, but the ball popped up into the air right into the hands of Jack Fortin, who found the end zone for a 24 yard touchdown and a 12-0 Indians lead.
“There was a defensive breakdown and a fluke play,” Riehl said. “We don’t allow plays like that too often so we knew we could get back into the game.”
The Hornets did just that on their next drive, a Dumont three yard run, and they looked to be going in for another score late in the half but Cohen was stopped inside the one yard line on an 18 yard reception as time expired in the frame sending Amesbury to a 12-6 halftime lead.
Manchester Essex, however, mounted an impressive third quarter drive going 87 yards on 15 plays and taking 7:26 off the clock culminating with a Dumont three yard run and conversion to give Manchester Essex a 14-12 lead early in the fourth quarter.
With the win the Hornets must now wait until the weekend games are over to find out who and where they will be playing in the Division 5 North quarterfinals.
“I guess we just wait and see now,” Athanas said. “We will take a look at those power rankings at the end of the weekend and go from there.”