The Manning High School football team had a rough first test without Corey Graham at quarterback last week, falling to Lakewood 33-14. Unfortunately for the Monarchs, that isn't a short-term problem, as they found out this week that Graham has a …
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The Manning High School football team had a rough first test without Corey Graham at quarterback last week, falling to Lakewood 33-14. Unfortunately for the Monarchs, that isn't a short-term problem, as they found out this week that Graham has a torn anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the remainder of the season.
On the bright side, Manning actually had a full week of practices to work with Caleb Wright at quarterback. Now head coach Reggie Kennedy can expand the playbook a little bit, and the Monarchs can clean up some of their mistakes after a weather-shortened week last week.
"We've had a good week of practice and the young man at quarterback, he's been settling in at the position. Now I think he's starting to feel a little bit more comfortable at the quarterback position," said Kennedy of Wright. "Last week was kind of crazy with the short week of practice and we kind of had to throw him in the fire. I don't think he was ready mentally to handle that, but I feel good going into this week.
"We've spent a lot of time this week identifying things he can do well throwing the ball," continued Kennedy. "More important than anything is his ability to manage the game at the quarterback position and lead the offense."
While this week has been a major shift for Wright, it's also brought a mindset change to the Monarchs. Now that Manning knows it will be without Graham for the entire season, it needs to buy in to the new quarterback situation and Kennedy likes the response he's seen.
"We're kind of using that to motivate us," said Kennedy. "That comes down to us as coaches; we have to help the team get over that. They looked for Corey to do a whole lot just from his past record and his past experience at quarterback on the lower level. He's always been that big play guy for them even at the JV (junior varsity) level, Pop Warner. He's always been that big play guy. He's always the guy to go 80 yards or put the team on his shoulders and bring them back. I think we're starting to get over it mentally."
Crestwood comes into the week trending in a completely different direction. The Knights are fresh off their first win of the season after beating Richland Northeast 43-20. That win was a big confidence booster for Crestwood after opening the season with a pair of losses.
"To go and get a win is always good," said head coach Roosevelt Nelson. "They put in a lot of hard work throughout the week, so they deserved to go out and get a win. It was a well-fought game, and we feel good about where we're at right now."
Manning is a team that loves to run the football regardless of their quarterback situation, but the shift to Wright at quarterback makes bottling up the run an even bigger priority for the Knights.
"We've gotta defend the run, that's always the first thing you've got to defend is the run and try your best to make teams one-dimensional, because I don't want to give up big plays in the passing game," said Nelson. "We've got a tall task, because they do run the ball effectively."
One of Crestwood's best assets is its physicality. It helped the Knights gain almost 400 yards of total offense against RNE. Manning has had to face very physical teams for the last few weeks, as Lakewood and Wilson also has a lot of size up front. Kennedy hopes his team responds to that physicality a little better this week.
"They're physical. They're a big football team, they're big up front on both sides of the ball," said Kennedy of Crestwood. "Hopefully these past two weeks helped us prepare for Crestwood and will help us once we get into region play."
Both coaches stressed the importance of managing turnovers. Handing the other team the ball is always something you want to avoid, but Manning has struggled with that the last few weeks and that's put a lot of unnecessary pressure on its defense.
"The past two weeks we turned the ball over 14 times," said Kennedy. "That's too much and eventually it does wear your defense down. Last week, Lakewood ran over 60 plays on offense, we ran about 30. They doubled the number of reps we had on offense and you can't do that. That's going to wear your defense down."
Nelson echoes those sentiments, saying that his Knights just need to play fundamental football and they'll put themselves in a position to win.
"First and foremost, it comes to the basics of the game," he said. "You've gotta tackle well, you've gotta block well, you've gotta catch well, you've gotta make good decisions with the football, and you've got to win the turnover battle. Those are the things you have to take care of every week. Make sure you eliminate big plays on defense and get some big plays offensively."
This isn't a region game, so both teams see this as a chance to get better as they gear up for the games that have playoff implications. That being said, pride is on the line.
"We tell our guys to keep an eye on the big picture," said Kennedy. "We want to get better each week, cut down mistakes each week and hopefully within the next two weeks we'll be peaking at the right time. Our big prize is we wanna win our region and get home field advantage in the playoffs.
"These rivalry games are more about bragging rights," continued Kennedy. "If you get beat now, you've gotta keep your mouth shut for 365 days, but we're keeping our eyes on our big goals."
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