Manning High School's varsity football team hopes to bury some of its past demons on Friday when it plays host to Cheraw at Ramsey Stadium in their 3A state playoffs opener.
The Monarchs have finished with a 7-4 record while losing in the first …
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The Monarchs have finished with a 7-4 record while losing in the first round of the playoffs in each of the past three seasons. Last year, the Monarchs fell to Swansea 20-14 in overtime in a mistake-filled game that saw them leave 17 points on the field after a pair of touchdowns were called back and they had a missed field goal.
"We don't want to be one and done," said first-year Manning head coach Reggie Kennedy. "I told the senior class that they've done a lot of great things this season, and it will be another feather in their cap if they can just get over the first round and also take advantage of having home field advantage."
Manning's record sits at 6-3 this season after winning five straight games and claiming the Region VII championship in their 27-24 victory over Bishop England last Friday. The victory also earned them home field advantage throughout the playoffs as long as they win.
"That was a big ball game for us," said Kennedy. "It was a region championship game, and with all that we went through this season with the ups and downs and losing a quarterback, and just to end up undefeated and win the region championship is really big for our program."
The Monarchs have been able to overcome this season's adversity thanks to its effective offensive line and a pair of explosive backs in Caleb Wright and Aaron Smith. Wright rushed for 202 yards and a touchdown, while Smith added 235 yards and a touchdown in the Monarchs' victory last week.
"We went to a 2-back set with three wideouts, and that just became 2-headed monster with Aaron and Caleb the past couple of weeks," said Kennedy. "The biggest difference is our offensive line. They've developed so much since the beginning of the season, and that's gotten our offense going and our running game going."
Cheraw enters the game with a 6-4 overall record and finished 2-3 in Region VI. Two of those losses though came to undefeated Aynor and once-beaten Dillon. The Braves represent a different type of opponent than Manning has lined up against in region play.
"It will be a little bit more smashmouth football this week," said Kennedy. "They're big up front, and they're real good at the skill positions on offense. We gotta do a good job of winning the battle up front on both sides of the football."
It's often said that the best defense is a good offense, and Kennedy is hoping to utilize that strategy on Friday as he aims to keep the ball out of the hands of those explosive playmakers for as long as possible.
"The first thing we have to do is run the football," said Kennedy. "If our offense can have a good night and keep their offense on the sideline and limit their touches that will be to our advantage."
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