MANNING -- With 3:26 left in Friday's football game at Manning High School's Ramsey Stadium, the homestanding Monarchs were in serious jeopardy of losing their first game of the season.
With Crestwood clinging to a 20-14 lead, a defensive stop left the Knights likely a first down shy of being able to run out the clock and put the first blemish on the Monarchs' spotless 2017 record.
That first down never came.
Instead, Manning's defense held and gave the offense the ball at the Crestwood 45 with exactly two minutes on the game clock. MHS quarterback Jack Owens got just enough yardage on a third-and-10 to keep the sticks moving before hitting David Fulton on passes of 23 and 8 yards, setting up a game-tying 4-yard run by Darias Williams with 34.6 seconds left. Bryan Morez then came on to nail the extra point, providing the margin of victory in a 21-20 thriller.
Ahead of those final two possessions, Manning had driven to the Crestwood 16 before an illegal procedure penalty pushed the ball back to the 21. A 1-yard run from Camron Cain would get the ball back to the 20 before three incomplete passes from Owens.
After taking over on downs, the Knights got a yard on a run by Damontae Furman before quarterback Anthony Bradley was stopped for no gain on second down. Then an incomplete pass on third down stopped the clock, saving precious time for Owens and the Manning offense to pull off the game-winning drive.
"We got lucky because they threw a pass incomplete, we stopped the clock and that gave us a little life," MHS head coach Keith West said. "Then we hit a long pass to Fulton down here that got us into the red zone, and Jack scrambled and hit Fulton on the other side (to set up Williams' game-winning run). He (Owens) also had the long run on third-and-10 to get us the first down. We were fortunate to win, but it was kind of like the Wade Hampton game where I thought we had a couple of chances to take control of the game and just didn't take advantage of those chances."
After battling to a 7-7 draw in the first half, the Knights and Monarchs had exchanged touchdowns on long drives to open the second half. Manning then had a 2-yard touchdown run by Williams called back by a procedure penalty and was later thwarted on the same drive as Crestwood blocked a 32-yard field goal kick attempt from Morez.
"I thought we took control of the game in the third quarter when we went on a drive and had first-and-goal at the 2. We ran into the end zone and scored, but we didn't have enough men (on the field). We were missing a tight end, so they called it back. Then we jumped offsides and went backwards," West said of a series that included a delay of game penalty, a 1-yard run by Cain and a 5-yard loss on an Owens run preceding Morez's field-goal attempt. "We blew two scoring chances on that drive, but give Crestwood credit because they kept fighting all night. Their quarterback is a great athlete and he made a lot of plays for them."
After a personal foul was accessed against the Knights following the return of the blocked kick, Crestwood took over at its 36. Nine plays later, with the aid of 20 yards gained on two penalties called against the Monarchs, Crestwood took its first lead as Joshua Simon laid out in the right corner of the end zone to haul in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Bradley.
The Knights' celebration was tempered, however, when Gavyn Zimmerman's PAT kick came up short, leaving the door open for the Monarchs' last-minute heroics.
"There's a lot of pressure on that kid, but he just short-legged it, didn't follow through with his kick and it went short," CHS head coach Roosevelt Nelson said in defense of his freshman place-kicker. "That was a generous spot on the third-and-10 (with Owens running out of bounds near the marker on the visiting sidelines) and that was a big pickup by them. We had our chances and we were up there, but we just let it get away."
Crestwood came out committed to the pass as Bradley was firing aerials on the first three plays from scrimmage. Unfortunately, Bradley's first completion of the night went to Manning linebacker Dontavus Hilton. That turnover set up a 5-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in a 2-yard Williams touchdown run. The score was set up by a 50-yard Cain scamper around right end that moved the ball to the 6.
Defense reigned supreme on the next six drives until a 32-yard punt return by Tyrese Felder put the Knights in the red zone at the Monarch 20. A facemask penalty against Manning moved the ball to the 10 and Furman took it the rest of the way, running for eight yards to set up a 2-yard scoring run that tied the game, 7-7, with 8:21 left in the half.
Manning opened the second half with a 10-play, 60-yard drive that resulted in a 10-yard scoring pass from Owens to Fulton. Owens and Fulton hooked up four plays earlier for a 27-yard completion to get the ball to the 18 and Cain, who closed with 175 yards on 24 carries, ran for 10 yards to set up the scoring play, which put the Monarchs up 14-7 with seven minutes to go in the third.
Crestwood answered with a 60-yard drive of its own, this one extending over 14 plays. Bradley and Furman worked the option to perfection, leaving the Monarchs guessing through most of the drive. Furman gained 16 yards on his four rushes while Bradley garnered 28 yards on five carries, including a 4-yarder that set up a 12-yard touchdown pass to Darryl Stuckey that brought the two teams even a second time at 14-14.
Stuckey's score preceded the Manning series that included the called-back touchdown run and the missed field goal.
"Hats off to Manning because they made enough plays to win," said Nelson, whose team dropped to 2-2. "We fought hard to the end, but at the end they had one more point than us. We've got to rebound from this and get ready for Marion (on the road) next week."
Manning takes its unbeaten record on the road next week, jumping up two classes to challenge 5A South Florence.