Grizzled Blue Streaks Find A Way As Manheim Township Holds Off Chambersburg In Opening Round Of District 3-6A Playoffs
In sports, it is unanimously accepted that the defending champion earns the right to consider themselves kings of the mountaintop unless another group of adversaries comes along later on down the line to knock them off their proverbial lofty perch. When speaking of District 3-6A high school football more specifically, the team that has won the right to relish in that very mindset is none other than the Manheim Township Blue Streaks. However, as one can imagine, the path towards defending their crown in the state’s highest classification system, especially in an absolutely loaded-for-bear field such as the one offered in District 3, would be anything but easy as the Streaks would quickly find out after seeing their name opposite of Chambersburg in the first round at home on Friday night in Neffsville.
Without question, this year’s version of Chambersburg football has had a distinct flair for the dramatics. Aside from completing a remarkable about-face this season after rebounding from the lowest of lows by virtue of their 0-10 overall record posted in 2017, including two games which saw the opposition score 70 and 82 points respectively, the Trojans proceeded to rightfully become the darlings of the Mid-Penn Conference this season by stampeding through their first four contests of the year, winning by an average margin of nearly 23 points. But even with their impressive start, the final night of the regular season was truly a “do or die” proposition for Chambersburg on the road at Carlisle. And in a way which so perfectly epitomized their sensational turnaround season, the Trojans were able to score two touchdowns within the game’s final minutes, including an improbable walk-off pick 6 authored by Brady Hughes, to stun the Thundering Herd and formally lock up the #7 seed in Districts.
While Chambersburg’s story is certainly one that has earned the right to stand on its own merit, the narrative which has served the District’s reigning 6A champs shouldn’t exactly take a back seat either. Coming into the season with what felt like more questions than a Nancy Drew mystery plot following the graduation of so many studs off its 2017 historic roster, the Streaks went on to fearlessly answer nearly every challenge set before them this season with the lone exception being a two point setback at home against Wilson at the midpoint of the regular season before going on to close things out in emphatic fashion by winning their final four contests by an average three touchdown margin. In the process of their 9-1 regular season mark, Township was able to lay claim to a tri-team share of the Lancaster Lebanon League Section 1 title, making good on their first back-to-back title defense from last year with a laser-like focus on the next objective at hand ready to get underway in Week 11 — Adding a second consecutive entry to the banner prominently hanging in the school’s gymnasium that reads, “District Football Champions.”
So, on a night ripe with intrigue that pitted two of the best storylines to this point in the season going head-to-head against one another with only one having the privilege to play another day, the stage was already set. However, there would be another key actor playing into the equation on this night — Mother Nature and her starring role of providing a driving rainstorm.
After Chambersburg won the initial coin toss and elected to go on defense first, the hometown Blue Streaks got the ball the first and immediately began pounding the rock by leaning on the efforts of junior Jaden Floyd to do most of the heavy lifting as the Township’s bulldozer of a running back gobbled up chunks of yardage behind his offensive line on the Streaks’ opening possession. However, when Township did take to the skies, there was trouble afoot. Although the Streaks had successfully used their power running game to open up space for an aerial assault, a long MT pass which seemed destined to end with a celebration in the endzone was cut short one yard prematurely as a strip and fumble at the Chambersburg 1-yard line was recovered by the Trojans’ Tyeshawn Worrell with the visitors remaining unscathed, at least for the time being.
And just their like their counterparts on this night, the Chambersburg offense promptly went to work with the safest method of warfare on this soaking-wet night, keeping the ball on the ground. Sure enough, the gameplan seemed to go off without a hitch for a majority of the Trojans’ opening series, especially when Keyshawn Jones got his turn toting the rock, as the Trojans’ dynamite junior running back frequently seemed to slipped his way through would-be Township tacklers on more than one occasion, including a 31-yard gallop which ushered the Trojan effort all the way down to the Township 36-yard line.
Unfortunately for the hearty souls that had made the nearly two hour drive eastward on this evening of less than stellar weather conditions, Chambersburg’s opening series would end with the exact same result as their opposition as a fumble recovery by the Streaks’ Grayson Kuhns saved the day for Township with MT setting up shop at their own 48-yard line following the timely takeaway.
However, the game giveth and the game taketh away. Just three plays into their ensuing offensive series following the Kuhns’ fumble recovery, Township quickly gave the ball right back to their guests as junior linebacker Bryce Diller sat on the MT pass route perfectly before rising up to snare the interception, giving the ball back to Chambersburg at the midfield stripe.
And while the Trojans would continue to have a hard time in navigating past the stingy Manheim Township defense, they would be able to move the ball down the field just far enough as the conclusion of the ensuing Chambersburg possession would yield the first points of the evening by way of a 33-yard field goal successfully placed through the uprights by junior placekicker Tyler Luther, as Chambersburg drew first blood at 3-0 before the 3:01 remaining on the first quarter clock would eventually melt away.
Although the Township offense would once again be stymied thanks to the efforts authored by the Chambersburg defensive unit following the Luther field goal, the Blue Streaks would get the ball back following a successful defensive stand of their own just seconds into the second stanza and immediately commence a march down the field. It surely wasn’t easy mind you, however, Township was able to extend the drive thanks to critical third-and-medium/third-and-short conversions behind the power running of Jaden Floyd and junior quarterback Harry Kirk. And when it came time for the Blue Streaks to finally punch it in, it seemed only fitting that Floyd would have the honors as the junior’s 11-yard TD scamper gave Manheim Township their first lead of the contest at 7-3 following the Jack Rodenberger PAT with 4:28 to play in the opening half.
While it initially seemed that the remaining portion of the first half would eventually come to a close with Township taking a four point lead with them into the warm and dry dressing room as evidenced by the two teams taking turns exchanging punts to one another over the course of the next several minutes, it would ironically be a punting situation in the waning stages of the first half that would provide yet another key momentum swing.
Coming on the heels of a successful three-and-out administered by the Chambersburg defensive unit, the Trojans appeared destined to start anew in the second half following a series of kneel downs which would eventually take the game into intermission. However, in a driving monsoon, nothing is ever a sure thing as the Trojans’ return unit would quickly find out as a late-half muffed punt was mishandled and recovered by Township, giving the Streaks the ball deep in Chambersburg territory at the 13-yard line with time nearly set to expire. And while Township would be held out of the endzone at the conclusion of their fortuitous possession, the Streaks would still be able to add to their lead as a 20-yard field goal booted home by special teams ace Jack Rodenberger would help take Manheim Township into the locker room with the 10-3 advantage.
Even despite the fact that Manheim Township would ride the wave of momentum into the second half by virtue of their late half score, Chambersburg was likely to remained undaunted by the circumstances surrounding their situation upon entering the second 24 minutes of play. And sure enough, the Trojans would prove precisely that. Aided behind a defensive facemask penalty whistled against the Blue Streaks along with a nice pitch and catch from junior quarterback Brady Stumbaugh to senior Brady Hughes, the Trojans quickly found themselves inside Manheim Township territory at the Blue Streaks’ 37-yard line to begin the third quarter of play. However, the momentum of the drive would quickly grind to an immediate halt. Over the course of the next few plays, the Township defense would rise up and thwart any additional advance from the visitors with everything come to a head on 4th& 2 conversion attempt which was successfully swarmed by Jon Engel and a host of other Blue Streaks, giving the ball back to the Township offense.
But even with the ball back and added momentum factoring into the equation, Township would still find difficulty in negotiating past the Chambersburg defensive troops as the third quarter was largely played at a stalemate. That is of course of until Keyshawn Jones had a say.
With the Chambersburg offense taking over deep in the shadows of their own goalposts, starting off at their own 9-yard line to be exact with the rainfall now quite possibly being measured in buckets, the task was less than welcoming to say the least. But with one the most dangerous running backs in the mid-state at your disposal, the incredible is never truly out of the realm of possibility. And right on cue on the very first play of the drive, Jones immediately took off like a bolt of lightning into the night, dipping and dodging past Township defenders along the Chambersburg sideline before successfully ending his journey in the endzone, as the junior’s sensational 91-yard touchdown jaunt allowed Chambersburg to knot things back up at 10-10 with 2:35 left in the third period.
But he wasn’t done there.
On the ensuing Manheim Township possession, Jones was able to show off his prowess in the defensive backfield as well by rising up and coming down with an interception to stave off a possible immediate Township rebuttal with the Trojans going back on offense at Township 49-yard line with momentum clearly entrenched on their sideline.
So, with the theme of rising to the challenge encapsulating the story of this year’s Manheim Township team on the macro, it seemed apropos that their resiliency would also be displayed on the micro. With Chambersburg threatening to take what could be a commanding lead with them into the final quarter of play, the Township defense needed to dig deep. Well, check and mate on this series.
Faced with a key 3rd& 5 attempt with the third quarter rapidly coming to a close, a fortuitous bad snap out of the shotgun rolled lazily along the turf to Trojan quarterback Brady Stumbaugh which simultaneously helped pave the way for Hilton Ridley and his fellow Blue Streak defenders to feast, as Ridley’s sack helped close the books on a key defensive stand for Township as the third would reach its conclusion.
Now, with the game clearly up for grabs, someone needed to step up and make a play. Enter Manheim Township freshman, Anthony Ivey.
On the first play of their ensuing offensive possession, Ivey came in motion presnap before getting the pop pass from quarterback Harry Kirk and finding another gear by turning it up around the right side of the line for the monstrous 26-yard pick up with the Blue Streaks now residing on the Trojans’ side of the field at the 45-yard line. But just as they had all night long, Chambersburg found themselves to be a formidable opponent, keeping Township from doing additional damage. Yet even though Township would be held out of the endzone on this drive, one of the best kickers in the state was promptly called upon as the 40-yard Jack Rodenberger field goal gave the lead back to Manheim Township at 13-10 with 7:45 left to play.
But just as they had been able to demonstrate all season long, the hard-fought Trojans from Chambersburg weren’t about to go quietly into the night.
Faced with a 3rd& 8 at their own 30-yard line on their next offensive series, Trojans’ QB Brady Stumbaugh was able to launch a perfect pass with the ball finding the waiting hands DaQuan Rogers on the other end, as the magnificent 70-yard touchdown jab gave the lead back to Chambersburg. Or so they thought. While a Chambersburg celebration was occurring in the endzone, the home fans were just as jubilant to see a yellow piece of clothing littered on the field as the Trojans’ TD was wiped away following an ineligible man downfield penalty. And with Chambersburg having to retreat all the way from which they came, a sack by the Streaks’ Bryce Casey on 3rd& 13 put the exclamation point on the successful Township defensive stand.
However, Chambersburg would soon get the ball right back following a Manheim Township punt with the opportunity to make good on another go-ahead drive. But it was not to be as a beautiful break on the ball by junior defensive back Matt Mikulka translated into a Blue Streaks’ takeaway with Mikulka running 45-yards down the field with it, allowing the Township offense to set up shop at the Trojans’ 4-yard line. From there, Bryce Casey was able plunge his way in from 3-yard out to give Township the commanding 20-10 advantage with just 1:56 to play. Or so they thought.
While most teams would just accept their impending fate and start to pack their belongings for the journey home, this year’s Chambersburg team had consistently been able to demonstrate an unrelenting will to never say die. And never was that more apparent than on the ensuing kickoff which was returned all the way to the house as the 90-yard kickoff return by Tyeshawn Worrell immediately sliced the Township lead down to size at 20-17 with 1:43 left to go.
With timeouts left in their pocket and game clock reading just under two minutes left go, Chambersburg elected to kick it deep rather than try for an onsides kick and give the Streaks a short field to work with the kick would eventually bounding its way into the endzone, allowing Township to take over at their own 20-yard line. So, with one first down being the difference between survive and advance, Manheim Township decided wisely to give the ball to Mr. Reliable on this night, Jaden Floyd, as Floyd’s timely 38-yard rush around the right side of the Township line gave the Blue Streaks a fresh set of downs, allowing them to finally exhale and wipe away their sweat beads after holding off a game Chambersburg squad, 20-17.
As mentioned, the 2018 edition of the Blue Streaks have continued to find a unique way of rising up and embracing the key element of getting comfortable about being uncomfortable. And once again, Friday night seemed to serve as the perfect microcosm. An attribute certainly not lost on Manheim Township head coach Mark Evans.
“This team has been consistently resilient all year long whether we’ve played good, bad, or just played average,” Evans offered following his team’s triumph on Friday night. “They have stayed even-keeled. They don’t get too high or too low,” the head man went to say reiterate regarding his team’s mental character. “When the chips are down, there’s just this confidence that they have. It’s not an arrogance and it’s not a cockiness. This group of kids just has a nice solid confidence that is pretty fun.”
However, even though the Streaks have consistently been able to silence the naysayers during the course of the regular season, it goes without saying that the playoffs are just a different breed of animal altogether that can make even the coolest of customers a little wide-eyed. But even with such a young squad, a majority of which were jumping head first into the deep end of the playoff pool on Friday night, it’s clear that this group of Blue Streaks had clearly been paying attention to the lessons taught to them by their ultra-successful brethren who have recently departed.
“I think they grasped the concept of the finality of it,” Coach Evans said highlighting this past week’s preparation and the circumstances surrounding it. “It’s ride or die time. Win and stay in. If you don’t, then you’re packing your stuff. This group of kids has done a great job of getting along and for that, I’d like to see them go as far as they can take it.”
NEXT UP: With their win over Chambersburg on Friday night, Manheim Township charges on to take an old friend in the Central Dauphin Rams next Friday night back home in Neffsville in the District 3-6A Final Four. It’s certainly a matchup that both teams are accustomed to considering the fact that the Blue Streaks and Rams seemed to have made a yearly habit of playing one another twice the last handful of seasons. In this year’s regular season matchup, Township was able to knock off the Rams, 22-12 at Landis Field in Harrisburg. But make no mistake about it, Township is well-accustomed to the aspect of having to face teams in rematch scenarios. Just look no further than last year’s playoff run for proof of that.
“The big thing is that they us know and we know them,” Evans said of the game at hand next weekend. (Central Dauphin) is going to come here hungry for payback just like when we played them in the last couple years when we’re weren’t having success and we tried to find motivation and a hunger to get it going. It’ll be a tussle.”
For Chambersburg, this year’s incredible ride came to a close Friday night at Manheim Township. And while Friday night may seem like a sour note to end on, at least in the sheer immediacy of it, the fact of the matter is that this year’s Trojan squad has helped lay the foundation for hopefully many successful seasons to come. Behind returning talent that includes the likes of quarterback Brady Stumbaugh, running back Keyshawn Jones, wideout Tyeshawn Worrell, and linebacker Bryce Diller to name just a few, 2019 appears to have all the makings of another Trojans’ run to the postseason. Only this time, possibly making other teams feel the burden of a long bus ride by having to venture down to Chambersburg for a Trojans’ home playoff game.
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