LEXINGTON – It was a night of big plays, big mistakes, big momentum shifts and, ultimately, big relief for Mansfield Senior.
The Tygers nearly frittered away a huge lead, but overcame over 100 yards in penalties and a goal-line snafu with quick-strike efficiency to outlast Lexington 45-28 in Friday night’s critical Ohio Cardinal Conference game.
Sophomore Jornell Manns caught touchdown passes for 45, 10 and 77 yards from Brandon Swindall in the first half as Senior High (7-2, 5-1 OCC) stayed in the hunt for a playoff berth and at least a share of its third conference title in four years.
“In all our games we come in thinking we have to perfect everything,” said Swindall, who had a career night with four TD passes. “The passing game and running game help each other.”
Tyger coach Chioke Bradley said Lex’s defense dictated what his team did on offense.
“We know those guys load the box against the run,” he said. “They do a great job of stacking the box and we saw on film that we could take some shots on the outside. Coach (Jeff) Soliday (offensive coordinator) did a great job of getting us in the right plays and Brandon stepped up and made some phenomenal throws.”
Sometimes the Tygers couldn’t get out of their own way because of penalties, A special team blunder where the punter took a knee at the 2 reaching for a low snap also played a role in Lex’s comeback from 21-0 and 27-7 deficits, setting up the last of Hunter Biddle’s three first half touchdowns.
That made it 27-21, but the Tygers blunted Lex’s momentum as Manns and Swindall hooked up for the third time, covering 77 yards, to make it 33-21 at the break.
It was Senior Night, with the home team celebrating during pre-game ceremonies and the Tygers celebrating on the scoreboard as their veteran influence — 18 seniors to just three for Lex — helped them fight off the Minutemen (6-3, 3-3).
Lex was hurt early on a tipped interception by Davis Chapman and takeway by Nishan Rawls on a fumbled kickoff, both of which the Tygers converted into touchdowns, including a shifty 40-yard run by Tyquan Vickers.
But moments after he was shaken up on his kickoff return near midfield Biddle scored the first of his four touchdowns. The Tygers would soon discover the Minutemen weren’t going anywhere.
That became even more apparent when Biddle — who rushed for 202 yards on 18 carries — sped 70 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, cutting the Tygers’ lead to single-digits again.
It stayed that way until the fourth quarter when Brian Benson, who rushed for 148 yards, tacked on his second two-yard TD run, easing some of his pain from having an 80-yard TD called back by penalty in the first quarter. A fumble recovery by Marvin Parker at the Lex 22 sealed the home team’s fate, with Swindall throwing his fourth TD pass — a 3-yarder to Saqaunn Johnson — to make it 45-28.
“I’m happy with the way we responded and fought back, but I’m not happy with how sloppy we were,” Lex coach Taylor Gerhardt said. “We got banged up and lost four guys and had to shift players around, but I’m proud of our ‘next man up’ effort. We just can’t play sloppy against a good team.”
Gerhardt admitted that stacking the line on defense was basically pick your poison against a team with skill players like Senior High.
“We wanted them to throw because of their running backs,” he said. “We certainly did not want them to throw the ball as well as they did.”
TIDBITS: Tyger head coach Chioke Bradley is 5-1 against Lexington, 2-1 at Lex … Lexington’s 21 points in the middle two periods were the first allowed by the Tygers in the second and third quarters since their Week 2 loss at Canton McKinley.
Despite having an 80-yard TD run negated by penalty, Brian Benson went over 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season and has now scored a touchdown in 13 straight games … Tyquan Vickers, who had a 40-yard TD run, is closing in on 3,000 career rushing yards.
Lexington head coach Taylor Gerhardt is a Malabar High School graduate and was a member of Stan Jefferson’s coaching staff in the late 1990s and early 2000s as was one of his assistant coaches, Pioneer Career & Technology Center superintendent Greg Nickoli.…Mansfield Senior has won 16 of the last 21 meetings between the Tygers and the Minutemen.
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