When Manchester senior running back Amani Richardson was limited in the second half of their game against Central Regional Friday night, Shaquille Benjamin knew he had to step up.
Benjamin keyed the Hawks’ 18-13 win over Central, a win that keeps their state playoffs alive. The win also denied Central a chance to clinch a share of the Class B South Division title. It would have been the Golden Eagles’ first title since 1994.
After not carrying the ball in the first half, Benjamin had 10 carries for 52 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. Benjamin also had a 45 and 51-yard kickoff returns.
“Amani is like a brother to me, so when he went down it kind of hit me emotionally,” Benjamin said. “My coaches came to me and said hold on to the ball and run the ball.”
Robinson had been struggling with a hip injury during the game, Manchester head coach Gerard O’Donnell said.
“Shaq did a really good job today,” O’Donnell said. “He stepped up when he was needed and really played well today.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Manchester opened the scoring when Kawaku Owusu returned a blocked punt 26 yards for a touchdown to give the Hawks a 6-0 lead. Central then bounced back to tie the score at 6-6 when Javon Hardy scored on a 30-yard touchdown run.
In the second half, Benjamin scored on touchdown runs of 3 and 10 yards to give the Hawks an 18-6 lead going into the fourth quarter. Central cut the lead to 18-13 when Marquis Drumwright found Anthony Arneth with a 10-yard touchdown pass.
“After they scored in the fourth quarter our defense made a couple of great stops,” O’Donnell said. “When we needed a stop they were able to make it.”
O’Donnell said that the team has protected the ball better during last couple of weeks.
“I could not be prouder of this team today,” O’Donnell said. “During the first five games we had 14 turnovers, we had one turnover tonight on crazy play but we did not have any turnovers on offense.”
“The coaching staff has been preaching better ball security for the last couple of weeks,” senior quarterback Devin Tomei said.
“Coaches talked about controlling the game and not turning the ball over and we were able to do that,” Tomei said. “Instead of forcing ball, we took a sack. We wanted to make sure we held on to the ball.”