Manitowoc Lincoln jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead on Green Bay East Friday night, and talk of running clocks and blowout victories crept onto the Ships’ sidelines.
But momentum can shift with one play, and it did for East, which cut its deficit to 21-14, and though Manty led 28-14 at halftime, the Red Devils could have claimed the Big Mo going into the second half.
Within 12 seconds of the third quarter, though, the game’s steering wheel was firmly back into the hands of of Lincoln. And it wasn’t letting go this time.
The Ships re-energized following a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Ethan Just to open the second half, ultimately rolling to a 49-14 victory.
The win puts Manitowoc at 3-3 overall, 3-2 in Fox River Classic Conference play, and still in line to earn a playoff berth. A 4-4 conference mark would likely get the Ships in; they host winless Green Bay West next Saturday for Homecoming.
“Right now, we’re feeling pretty confident,” said Lincoln coach John Dixon. “We treat every game now like it’s a playoff. I know it’s cliche, but we can’t afford to go into the playoffs on a loss. We need to keep building momentum.”
Momentum was the catalyst Friday night. A pair of touchdown runs by Drew Dixon, then a 31-yard score by Just put the Ships ahead 21-0 in the first quarter.
It had the feel of a blowout in the making. Manitowoc was simply bigger, faster and more physical on both sides of the ball. The Devils couldn’t move the ball or stop the Ships’ offense.
But East quarterback Christopher Frelich gave his team hope on a 70-yard TD strike to Jordan Sullivan. Solid defender Marc Clifton injured his ankle on the play, and did not return to action.
Dixon scored his third TD in the second quarter, but East had a chance at the end of the first half to cut its deficit. A fade pass into the corner of the end zone on the half’s final play came up short. But at the time, the Devils were outplaying the Ships.
The second half was a different story. Just’s jaunt gave Manty a 35-14 lead, and East did not recover.
“That was a knife to your chest,” East coach Brian Nast said. “Tough to overcome.”
“Ethan’s kickoff, that was kind of a buzzkill for East,” Dixon said. “Things were going wrong (for us), and that was a big momentum shift.”
In the second half, Manty’s defense held East to just two first downs, 14 carries for 7 yards and 2-of-5 passing with an interception.
Alex Emme secured two interceptions and Hunter Saubert made a big stop during the Ships’ first momentum surge.
“That’s a good football team. Got some big boys, players with speed,” said Nast. “Our kids battled and played with a lot of heart. (Manitowoc) just leaned on them.”
Manitowoc’s three-pronged rush attack of Just, Dixon and Cameron Jaeger proved to be too much. Manty rushed 50 times for 351 yards and six touchdowns.
Jaeger followed lineman Wesley Lodel’s back-to-back pancake blocks for his first score.
Dixon would like to see more production from the passing game before the playoffs — it generated zero yards with an interception on Friday — but he’s also very pleased with the ground attack.
“I’ve been running this offense for 33 years, and I’ve never had three backs of the level we have now,” said Dixon. “I don’t know who you take away from us.”
Dixon saw another first on Friday. Lincoln had three straight TD plays called back due to penalty, including a pretty pass from Brennan Mrotek to birthday boy Ben Kohls.
The Ships would ultimately recover and score on the drive anyway.
“I don’t think we’ve ever scored four touchdowns on one possession before,” Dixon joked.