SULLIVAN TWP. — Black River did it for the Patriot Athletic Conference, the rowdy crowd at Art Stevenson Field and the naysayers who proclaim it’s tough to beat a team twice in one season.
Most of all, the Pirates did it for themselves as proof they belonged in the Division IV, Region 13 playoffs, becoming the first PAC team to win a postseason game since the league was instituted in 2005.
Final score: Pirates 49, Manchester 24 in a Saturday night no-doubter.
Those losses earlier in the year to Wellington and Firelands? They don’t matter anymore because coach Al Young’s team is the only one left standing.
“We proved that we can play in the playoffs,” said running back/cornerback Jake Sexton, whose team will play top-seeded Girard next week at a site to be determined. “We proved that no matter how big the team is, how much people think they’re going to beat us, we’re the underdogs and we’re going to come out and win at our home field.”
Playing in its first playoff game since 2003, Black River (9-2) scored 42 of the game’s final 54 points. The Pirates rushed for 447 yards — a
412-yard improvement over the first meeting — and played bend-but-don’t-break defense against Manchester’s vaunted passing attack.
Sophomore sensation Andrew Vaughn rushed 23 times for 236 yards and three touchdowns, while long-legged junior Austin Phillips added 13 carries for 148 yards and two scores as the Pirates abused the Panthers’ 5-3 defense off-tackle and around end.
Linemen Terry Sas, Andrew Henschel, Doug Church, Barrett Schmitz and Austin Childs and tight end John Guilford were so dominating Black River didn’t run up the gut until quarterback Dakota Kuntz scored untouched on a 9-yard TD run with 3:28 remaining.
“We just had to come out and hit them harder,” Sas said. “Every play when you’re dog tired, just override it.”
Black River dominated the final 2 1⁄2 quarters in a game that featured a once-in-a-lifetime scenario.
Down 14-12 midway through the second quarter, Manchester (7-4) had first-and-10 on the Black River 15. Phillips sacked Nick Peyakov (22-of-51 passing, 298 yards), then the Panthers were called for holding and offensive pass interference on consecutive plays. Guilford sacked Peyakov to bring up fourth-and-51 from the Black River 44.
Peyakov lofted a booming punt, but Vaughn dropped the potential fair catch and the Panthers recovered at the 18.
Fortunately for the Pirates, they held firm, as Manchester receivers Greg Shoemaker (four receptions, 63 yards) and Mark Terry (four, 65) dropped would-be touchdown passes on third and fourth down to squander the threat.
A fired-up Black River then went on the march, running Vaughn seven times for 75 yards — including a nifty option from Kuntz on third-and-14 — and capping the drive with 1:01 left in the half when Vaughn went in from 9 yards.
“We watched film every day on these guys and we finally put it all together,” Vaughn said. “We got our run game going.”
While Vaughn took over the first half, Phillips did his damage when Black River needed the knockout blows in the second.
The rugged 6-foot-1, 185-pounder took his first carry of the second half
49 yards to set up his own 2-yard TD, putting Black River up 28-12. A 20-yarder later in the quarter paved the way for Vaughn to score from 49 yards out, and Phillips’ 47-yard TD in which he showed surprising breakway speed was the dagger, as Black River had a 42-24 lead with 9:29 remaining in the game.
Sprinkle in 49 yards on just four carries from Sexton, who kicked off the scoring with a 31-yard counter, and Black River’s Wing-T was firing on all cylinders.
“Not to sound arrogant, but we wanted to show people we deserved to win that first game,” said Young, referring to a 29-28 decision over the Panthers in Week 3. “Obviously, it’s very hard to beat Manchester. To beat them twice in one year is extra special.”
While the offense was unstoppable, the defense made the proper adjustments to slow down Peyakov.
Running a four-man front for the first time all season, the Pirates put constant pressure on Peyakov, sacking him four times. Sexton also picked off a pass in Black River territory — it was just Peyakov’s second interception of the season — and the Panthers’ run game was non-existent with 87 yards on 29 attempts.
Peyakov converted third-and-11, fourth-and-12 and third-and-12 situations in the first half, leading to two Manchester TDs. The second half was a totally different story, as the Pirates held Manchester to just four more third- or fourth-down conversions.
Sexton and Donatius DeMarco each broke up two passes, while Guilford, Kuntz and Nick Morrow added one apiece.
“They can throw the ball real well, but our DBs started to pick up on what they were doing,” Sexton said. “We came up with a game plan, and as the game went on we continued to stop their passing game.”
Now, the Pirates are riding high with momentum. They showed the PAC can win a playoff game — the 7-year-old league is now 1-7 — and they showed they can throw in some new wrinkles. Most importantly, they showed they belonged.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Vaughn said. “Winning at home, all these fans come out to watch us play and they’ve got our backs. We just wanted to win for them, and we did it.”
Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Black River 49, Manchester 24
Manchester 12 0 6 6 — 24
Black River 7 14 14 14 — 49
B — Jake Sexton, 31 run (Alex Bacisin kick)
M — Greg Shoemaker, 12 pass from Nick Peyakov (kick failed)
M — Tyler Graves, 18 run (pass failed)
B — Andrew Vaughn, 36 run (Bacisin kick)
B — Vaughn, 1 run (Bacisin kick)
B — Austin Phillips, 2 run (Bacisin kick)
M — Peyakov, 1 run (pass failed)
B — Vaughn, 49 run (Bacisin kick)
M — Dallas Edwards, 22 pass from Peyakov (pass failed)
B — Phillips, 47 run (Bacisin kick)
B — Dakota Kuntz, 9 run (Bacisin kick)
First downs 21 16
— by rushing 6 14
— by passing 14 1
— by penalty 1 1
Yards rushing 87 447
Yards passing 298 31
Total offense 385 478
Passes att./comp. 51/22 4/1
Intercepted by 0 1
Fumbles/lost 0/0 0/0
Penalties/yards 4/30 6/56
RUSHING — (M) Tyler Graves 16-75, Peyakov 13-12. (BR) Vaughn 23-236, Phillips 13-148, Sexton 4-49, Kuntz 2-14, Donatius DeMarco 1-0.
PASSING — (M) Peyakov 22-52-298-1-1. (BR) Kuntz 1-4-31-0-0.
RECEIVING — (M) Mark Terry 4-65, Shoemaker 4-63, Edwards 7-59, Graves 2-58, Chad Robertson 2-33, Cort Logan 3-20. (BR) Nick Morrow 1-31.