MANCHESTER, NH – Last year Manchester Memorial finally broke a four-year losing football streak. Now they might be finally breaking the culture that went along with it.
Memorial earned an opening night win against arch-rival Manchester Central on Friday, topping the Little Green 21-20 on a last-second blocked extra-point.
That block, by junior Jacob Calabro, was one last moment of resilience in a night of resilient moments that saw the Crusaders come back from 14-0 down in the first half and take the lead after junior Kai Colson’s 81-yard scoring run with just under two minutes in regulation.
“We said, Central’s kicker has barely been getting it over the bar the whole game. We said send the whole thing: if you block it, we win,” said Memorial Head Coach Rob Sturgis. “They sold out, they believed in that one play, they believed in that moment, they gave great effort and they were able to make a play.”
Calabro also grabbed an interception earlier in the contest which allowed for Colson’s first score. Junior Matteo Jimenez provided Memorial’s other score, leveling the game at 14-14 mere seconds into the fourth quarter, finishing an 81-yard, six-play drive with a three-yard touchdown scamper.
Colson said his 81-yard touchdown run was the longest of his life, made even more difficult due to a sprained ankle he has been nursing for the past three weeks.
For Colson, the effort made by his squad marked a difference in attitude that has been lacking from Memorial in recent years.
“Last year I feel like we never cared about it, this year I feel like we really cared about it,” said Colson. “The last two seasons I feel like we played really poor, but this win was just a really good kick-start to the season.”
For Sturgis, that change has come largely from his class of seniors, who were honored before the game due to the uncertainty of how long the season might last due to COVID-19.
“Honestly, it’s just these kids. They’ve really wanted to change the culture here for the past three years,” said Sturgis. “They’ve done a lot of work getting everybody on the same page, getting everybody to understand their role, just understanding that it’s one play at a time. Never getting too high, never getting too low, just understanding the situations and keep fighting.”
Central Head Coach Ryan Rae also praised Memorial’s tenacity both on Friday and in the long term while also acknowledging satisfaction in the fact that his boys could have easily come up with the win as well.
Like Sturgis, Rae also saw room for improvement as both coaches recognized the delayed start to this COVID-19 pandemic-impacted season created a somewhat uneven performance at times on Friday.
However, Rae appreciated the fact that both teams had a chance to be on the field at all.
“Everybody was happy to be out here and be part of a football game. Cheerleaders, some people playing some instruments, I think the atmosphere was great,” he said. “I think we’re lucky that the City of Manchester and the School Board allowed us to play football this year.”
Central’s two touchdowns both came thanks to senior Quarterback Joshua Jerome. The first came during Central’s initial drive, as Jerome ran three yards for the second. That was followed on the Little Green’s next drive as Jerome connected with senior Tight End Kellen Jameson on a four-yard strike, completing a four-play, 69-yard drive.
Both teams now have four games remaining in the truncated fall season, with Central traveling to Bedford and Memorial heading to Concord for a pair of 7 p.m. Friday contests.