MANSFIELD — When Brian Benson faced the Colts last year, he ran like a Triple Crown winner.
Mansfield Senior’s junior running back didn’t need to put up record numbers Friday night, but he was still plenty good in this Ohio Cardinal Conference opener, keeping pace with a defense that pitched a shutout in the Tygers’ 30-0 victory over Clear Fork at Arlin Field.
Clear Fork hung tough for a half, trailing 7-0 at the break in a game that bore no resemblance to last year’s meeting, which the Tygers won 62-41 behind Benson’s school record 329 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
The Colts failed to capitalize on two first half turnovers by the Tygers in this rematch, but when Clear Fork fumbled on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Benson made them pay. He burst 36 yards up the middle for a touchdown. The way Mansfield Senior was playing defense, that 14-0 lead proved insurmountable.
Senior High (3-1) was often its own worst enemy. At one point in the fourth quarter, Tyger publicist and stat guru John Davis shared in the press box that each school had 90 yards — in penalties for Senior High and total yardage for Clear Fork (2-2).
But the Tygers were able to overcome their mistakes with a fierce running attack. Benson finished with 193 yards on 19 carries and two TDs and Tyquan Vickers added 87 on 15 attempts and his TD. Senior High finiished with a 387-88 edge in total yardage to offset 11 flags totaling 100 yards.
“I don’t know (what it is about playing Clear Fork), but our coaches are passionate about playing them and had it in our heads we had to get the win,” Benson said. “It sets the tone for the rest of the year in the OCC.”
A zig-zagging 15-yard TD run by Vickers made it 21-0 in the third quarter, but a 16-play drive produced no points in the fourth quarter because of a mishandled handoff. At least the march wasn’t all for naught. Moments later, the Tygers tackled Clear Fork quarterback Jarrod Smith in the end zone for a safety.
Jornell Manns returned the ensuing free kick for a TD, but it was negated by a block in the back. That particular penalty didn’t cost the Tygers because Benson blasted 49 yards for his second TD after Manns’ return was waved off.
It was that kind of exhilarating, exasperating night for the winners.
“My teammates chose me as a captain for a reason,” Benson said about converting two big mistakes — one by each team — into his TDs. “I need to step up when they need me.”
Tyger coach Chioke Bradley shook his head when he saw on the stat sheet his team had 12 more penalty yards than Clear Fork had yardage.
“Oh, man,” he said. “They’ll be doing up-downs for that.”
But his mood brightened discussing the zero on Clear Fork’s side of the scoreboard.
“Our defensive staff did a great job putting together a gameplan,” he said. “Our front seven (which includes Benson at linebacker) is pretty daggone good. When we pin our ears back, we’re able to see the ball, hit the ball(carrier).
“But we should have put up 50 points, easy. They didn’t do anything to stop us. We stopped ourselves.”
Manns was at the center of the action, for better or worse — mostly better — in the first quarter. His 11-yard catch on the game’s opening series capped a 41-yard scoring drive set up by Davis Chapman’s 49-yard kickoff return.
After a third down sack by linebacker Brandon Myers stopped Clear Fork on its first possession, Manns muffed the punt return and the Colts were in business near midfield.
On fourth-and-3 from the Tyger 38, Smith executed a great fake and kept for eight yards and the first down. The Colts got as close as the 14, but on third-and-five a botched handoff kicked the ball loose and Manns — there he is again — recovered at the 11 to atone for his own giveway.
“Two plays completely changed the game — the opening kickoff and the first play of the second half,” Clear Fork coach Dave Carroll said. “I thought we had some momentum at halftime because we were moving the ball and got some stops. The other disappointment was that we got out-physicaled.
“We counted 16 seniors for them; we have two. But no excuses; they were the better team tonight. We’ve got a nice future ahead of us. We’ve just got to stick together.”
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