Going into this one, it was promised to be one of the toughest challenges of the year for the Manchester Essex football team.
The Hornets struggled with consistency during the regular season before making a statement with wins in their final two contests, helping the team finish up with a winning (5-3) record and a claim to a coveted spot in the Top 16 in the Div. 7 rankings. Earning the 15th seed out of 16 teams got Manchester Essex into the tourney, but it also earned them a matchup with second-seeded Cohasset, setting the team up for a long bus ride to face an opponent that has played at a high level in a competitive division, on the road, with the opportunity to move on in the postseason on the line.
Once they got there, the Hornets looked as if they could overcome all the pressure that went along with this contest, but came up just short in a close contest, falling to the Skippers by a 35-28 score on Nov. 3.
“A good playoff battle between two good teams,” explains Manchester Essex football coach Joe Grimes. “I was really proud of my guys -- they fought and scrapped for 48 full minutes and just came up a little bit short against a good Cohasset team.”
Sophomore quarterback/defensive back Zach Hurd accounted for the bulk of the yardage and scoring for the Hornets, going 8-for-14 for 145 yards and a touchdown through the air, in addition to 92 yards, a pair of touchdowns and a successful two-point conversion on the ground.
“Zach has been playing great all year in his first year at QB for the Hornets,” explains Grimes. He's been really solid and it was great to see the stats reflect it this week -- we run the ball a lot.
He adds: ““Zach Hurd played his best game so far as a varsity quarterback.”
The Skippers staked an early lead, scoring a rushing touchdown in the first quarter and getting a safety on defense in the first half before Hurd and Co. answered with a scoring drive that culminated in a three-yard touchdown run by the quarterback. Manchester Essex’s two-point conversion failed, making the score 8-6 in favor of the home team at intermission.
Cohasset struck first again in the second half with a 16-yard run on the ground followed by a failed extra point attempt. Hurd and the Hornets answered the score with a 62-yard rushing touchdown, followed by Stephen Martin punching in the first successful two-point conversion for either team in the game, tying the contest at 14-14.
“The running back tandem of Stephen Martin, Quinn Brady and Mac Edgerton have been workhorses for us on offense this year,” says Grimes.
The score was soon unknotted, however, with Cohasset once again scoring before the end of the third and a successful extra point attempt gave the Skippers a 21-14 lead heading into the final stanza.
In the fourth, the Skippers and Hornets alternated scoring, keeping Manchester Essex from inching closer to either tying the game or taking the lead. Cohasset scored on a passing touchdown and a 17-yard run, going 1-for-2 on two-point conversions, while Manchester Essex got a 39-yard touchdown pass from Hurd to Preston Potter and an 8-yard run from Martin. Hurd passed to Quinn Brady after the second touchdown to complete the two-point conversion, but the pass would close out both the scoring in the game and the Hornets’ playoff run.
“It was a pretty close one,” explains Grimes. “It was back-and-forth throughout the game and really felt like it was going to be down to the wire -- and it was.”
The Hornets now move on to the non-playoff bracket, and are now scheduled to face Triton at home on Nov. 9 (6:30 p.m., Hyland Field).
“We've seen some film and played them a couple years ago in a similar situation,” Grimes says of the Vikings. “They just missed the Div. 6 playoff but had a pretty convincing win last week, so I'm sure they'll be ready to go on Thursday.”
While the opportunity to continue on in the playoff has ended, the Hornets still made a statement with their play against the Skippers and throughout the season.
“My overall sentiment regarding the ‘23 campaign is feeling proud of my whole team, but especially the seniors,” explains Grimes. “A great group of young men and really high-quality football players that have done a great job of setting the tone for our underclassmen and laying out the template of success for years to come.”