The emotional distance between Colonial Forge and Manchester seemed almost incalculable.
In the waning moments of Friday’s Region 6B championship game, the Lancers strutted about their sideline, swaying to the stylings of their marching band in anticipation of receiving a trophy. The Eagles’ procession was a solemn one, winding up the grass-covered hill to a home locker room where players would hand in uniforms.
Any careful measurement of Manchester’s 21–7 victory, however, reveals that the gulf separating the two teams spanned exactly four yards.
Twice, Colonial Forge drove inside the Lancers’ 5-yard line, and twice the Eagles left the field without points.
“We established that we could get down there, and then we would make mistakes and not get in the end zone,” senior Josh Sarratt said. “We just didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”
On their first possession, the Eagles (12–1) saw a golden scoring chance unravel at the 1 when quarterback Madden Lowe was stuffed on a fourth- and-goal sneak attempt.
Following a KJ McNeil 7-yard touchdown run, Forge again sensed paydirt. But on third and goal from the 3, Lancers’ defensive back Kwame Dehaney intercepted Lowe in the end zone to extinguish the threat.
Where the Eagles floundered in the red zone, Manchester flourished. Lancers senior quarterback Brendan Clark completed 14 of 25 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown. The Notre Dame recruit also gashed the Eagles on the ground, picking up 142 yards on 16 carries.
With its 13th victory, Manchester set a single-season school record, one that the Lancers will try to break when they face Ocean Lakes in a Class 6 state semifinal next weekend.
“I thought their offensive line played well,” first-year Eagles coach John Brown said. “They got off the ball, stick and stay, hats on linebackers. [Clark] is the real deal, for sure.”
Though his senior season ended in forgettable fashion, Sarratt wasn’t in the mood to sulk. The Free Lance–Star reigning player of the year instead chose to view his career in totality.
“I still remember my freshman year like it was yesterday,” Sarratt said. “It flew by, but at the same time I didn’t take it for granted.”
And he wasn’t about become complacent with his Eagles trailing by two scores in the second half. Already up 14–0, Manchester lined up to attempt a 23-yard field goal. Sarratt had other plans, bursting through the line and rejecting the kick with both hands.
After the Lancers scored again to go up 21–0, Sarratt undercut a Clark pass and secured a bobbling interception. The ensuing return primed Forge’s only touchdown, a 5-yard pass from Lowe to receiver Paten Rodier with 11:01 to play.
While standouts like Sarratt and linebacker Oliejah Louissaint will graduate this spring, the Eagles return a young, talented core of players who are still learning.
“We’ll carry these scars with us,” Brown said. “A game like that goes a long way in their education.”
Ma—KJ McNeil 7 run (Jake Lero kick).
Ma—Colin Harding 17 pass from Brendan Clark (Lero kick).
Ma—Val West 13 run (Lero kick).
CF—Paten Rodier 5 pass from Madden Lowe (Phillip Lovelace kick).
RUSHING: Manchester—Brendan Clark 16-142; Isaiah Todd 23-85; KJ McNeil 4-17, TD; Val West 1-13, TD. Colonial Forge—Ernesto Bowen 9-29; Madden Lowe 9-51; Oliejah Louissaint 1-1.
PASSING: Manchester—Brendan Clark 14-25-1, 235 yards, TD; McNeil 0-1. Colonial Forge—Madden Lowe 18-33-1, 188 yards, TD.
RECEIVING: Manchester—McNeil 4-66; Colin Harding 1-17, TD; Kevin Henderson 2-61; Kei’Trel Clark 2-33; Val West 1-10; Alston Robinson 1-15. Todd 1-17. Colonial Forge—Zack Kindel 4-31; Rodier 6-59, TD; Josh Sarratt 4-56; Elijah Sarratt 3-32; Ernesto Bowen 1-2.