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MANNING -- Laurence Manning Academy is headed to the SCISA 3A football state championship game to face a familiar foe.
The Swampcats dispensed of Ben Lippen 48-42 on a cold, wet Friday night at Billy Chitwood Field to set up a rematch with the Skyhawks, who dominated Heathwood Hall by a score of 48-7 to earn their spot in the title tilt.
The teams last met in the championship round in 2017, when Hammond put 42 points on the board in the first half on the way to a 49-7 win.
LMA ran its record to 11-1 on a night where quarterback Burgess Jordan joined running back Wyatt Rowland in an effort to offset the heroics of Falcon quarterback Will Taylor. Jordan ran 14 times for 138 yards and three scores, adding another score through the air, while Rowland closed with 237 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
Rowland was also in on two key late sacks of Taylor, who broke free on a number of plays in racking up 247 yards rushing on 18 attempts. Taylor also completed touchdown passes of 23 and 39 yards to Evan Werner, 10 yards to Jack Austin and 28 yards off an LMA tip to Willie Simmons. The Falcon signal caller's touchdown runs went for 66, 5 and 23 yards, with other scampers going for 30 yards on a fake punt, 63 on a play where the ball was fumbled forward and hit the pylon but possession stayed with BL, 20, 16 and 13 yards. The 16-yard run helped to offset an 18-yard loss on a sack the play before.
"Their quarterback is one of the best quarterbacks in our league, I think, him and the Muschamp kid (Jackson, from Hammond), and you can't tackle him," said first-year LMA head coach Austin Floyd. "We struggled tackling him tonight, and if we did we were just off. But we kept rallying, kept playing and both teams made plays, but we were able to make a few more than them."
Jordan's scoring runs went for one, two and four yards, with his touchdown pass going for 39 yards to a wide-open Gabe Harris on a busted defensive coverage. Jordan also ran for 46 yards to set up a 1-yard Nolan Osteen run. Osteen also scored from four yards out for the Swampcats' first score, set up by a 57-yard Rowland run.
Rowland's scoring run came from seven yards out and pulled LMA within one, 21-20, after the Falcons had broken a 14-14 halftime deadlock with Taylor's 5-yard scoring run. Along with his 57-yard run to open the initial LMA possession, Rowland contributed runs of 48 yards to set up Jordan's 1-yard score and 73 to proceed his 7-yard score.
"This was probably one of the crazier ball games that I have been a part of," said Floyd of a game that saw three lead changes and the Falcons nearly rally from a 20-point deficit before coming up just short. "Burgess was the man tonight. They were giving us quarterback power and we just took it, took it, took it and just kept pounding him. He had some good runs at the goal line, had a big throw to Gabe Harris and he played phenomenal. I couldn't be more proud of him. He's a very tough kid."
After a relatively tame first half, the third quarter proved to be explosive. The teams traded scores, and the lead, until Jordan's 2-yard run and Rowland's second 2-point run put the Swampcats up 34-28. Then LMA's Jackson Lee executed a successful onside kick that set the stage for two scores to stretch the lead to 48-28.
"We were struggling, we had just given up the big return and we felt like they couldn't stop us offensively," Floyd said. "If we could get one turnover, one swing, we could kind of jump on them. We went for it and were able to make the play."
Those two scores would prove to be just enough as Taylor's 23-yard scoring run would come with 31 seconds left to pull the Falcons within the final margin of six. Jordan would take a knee to close out the game after Tripp Joye fell on BL's last-gasp onside kick attempt.
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