NASHUA, NH – Manchester Central has come a long way in a month.
The Little Green began the season losing by 38 points to Alvirne way back on Sept. 2, looking like a team that might not win a game.
Here we are about to turn the calendar to October, and the Little Green captured their second victory of the season on Friday night, 20-8 over a winless Nashua South team at a soggy Stellos Stadium.
“We’ve just kept working,” Central coach Ryan Ray said. “The kids have really worked hard. We are getting better. We don’t have a ton of kids, got a lot of young kids getting a lot of reps, and they’re getting better each week.”
Nashua South coach Scott Knight would love to say the same thing. His 0-5 young team has suffered some tough losses, especially last night when the Panthers grabbed an 8-0 lead in the first quarter but in the second half got only one first down, and that was thanks to a Central personal foul penalty on defense.
It didn’t help the Panthers that they were missing a handful of startes, including 6-2 receiver Josh Tripp, and it didn’t help that top back Kyle Emmons was limited due to rolling his ankle in practice during the week.
“It is what it is,” Knight said. “We’re having a hard time. I hate losing. The effort from the kids is great. We’re successful in the fact we’re playing as hard as we can. There’s good stuff ahead of us, but we want to win now.”
The way the game started, it looked like they would, as Sam Levine’s 4-yard TD run capped a 13-play, 44-yard drive. Gus Smiley’s conversion run made it an 8-0 game with 5:34 left in the first quarter.
But that was it as the Little Green took advantage of four Panther turnovers, including one a yard away from the Central end zone.
“Absolutely,” Ray said. “The weather was a huge factor in our win. We were able to minimize the mistakes and take advantage of theirs. That’s a very good young team, and unfortunately for them, the weather bit them in the rear end.”
It looked like South would add to its lead with a first-and-goal from the 8 to start the second quarter. But Levine fumbled on the 1-yard line into the end zone, Central recovered and that threat went by the board.
Still, it took until just before the half for things to begin to turn Central’s way when a South fumble on a punt attempt had the ball in the end zone where Central’s Triston Benner pounced on it for six points with 31.9 seconds left in the half – the fourth time in five games the Panthers gave up a score just before the half. The two-point conversion failed and South still had an 8-6 lead at the break.
But it didn’t last long. Wyatt Fougere broke into the secondary on a run and raced 55 yards for a TD that gave the Little Green (conversion failed) the lead for good, 12-8, just over two minutes into the third quarter.
On the quarter’s last play, Central’s Owen Taylor-Gelinas picked off South QB Cody Jackson in the left flat to give Central a first and 10 at the South 13. Three plays later Trevor Wong bulled his way in from a yard out and also had a 2-point conversion run and the lead grew to 20-8 with 10:58 to play.
The Panthers offense couldn’t muster any type of attack, held to just a microscopic 7 yards in the final two periods.
“We can’t make critcal errors in the red zone,” Knight said. “I told the kids special teams were going to have to be good, and I thought they were great (an on-sides kick recovered early) until (the botched punt). We got a 2-point conversion again, it was great. We’re doing some good things. … But we just don’t have an identity on offense right now. We’re trying. We’ve never been like that.
“Their linebackers were pinning their ears back, and knew we couldn’t throw it (in the conditions).”
Effort and results are two different things, unfortunately for South and fortunately for Central.
“Playing hard is not a problem with our team,” Ray said. “Executing is.”
But not last night.