Sophomore Arch Manning
and his Newman (New Orleans)
teammates were looking for a historic win Friday night — a chance to vault the Greenies into their first Louisiana High School Athletic Association championship game.
But the Greenies were done in by a rugged defense and three-time defending Division III champion Lafayette Christian Academy (Lafayette),
which forced four turnovers and allowed less than 250 yards en route to a gritty 21-7 semifinal road victory.
No shame there.
Even without their team's top player, LSU-bound safety Sage Ryan
(hamstring injury), the fourth-seeded Knights (9-1) held top seed Newman to just a perfectly placed 33-yard scoring strike from Manning to Pike Philibert
late in second quarter that cut their lead in half, 14-7.
On the very next play from scrimmage, freshman quarterback Jujuan Johnson
hit Caemon Scott
with a 67-yard touchdown to put LCA back up 21-7 with 1:40 left in the half, taking away any Newman momentum.
The second half went scoreless, though Newman had two chances inside the LCA 10, each ending in turnovers.
The last one came with 3:24 left, following a Newman punt block put the ball at the Knights' 6-yard line. But after two runs when nowhere, Manning, the MaxPreps 2019 Freshman of the Year and nephew of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning, was intercepted on third down by Devin Walton
Under duress — like he was most of the night — Manning was chased out of the pocket again. Racing left, Manning dumped a short pass that Walton made a diving interception just short of the end zone. It was Newman's last gasp and hopes to reach its first state finals after seven previous semifinal tries. The top-seeded Greenies (9-1) are 0-8 in attempts to get to the finals.
The Knights will play for their fourth straight title in two weeks, this time against St. Charles Catholic (LaPlace), a 24-22 winner over Notre Dame (Crowley). Clearly the seeds were off. Head in, the MaxPreps Louisiana computer rankings had Lafayette Christian No. 14 and Newman 32.
With a heavy pass rush and little separation managed by Newman receivers against an exceptional LCA secondary, Manning finished unofficially 18 of 38 for 158 yards. He was sacked four times and finished with 10 carries for minus-1 yard and he lost a fumble.
This against a fast and active defense that entered the game with five shutouts this season and just 61 points allowed.
Perhaps the best defender on the night was cornerback Jordan Allen
, who returned the opening kickoff 70 yards to set up a short field and a 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ryan Roberts
to make it 7-0 with 10:23 left in the first quarter.
A Roberts to Darian Riggs
19-yard quick screen to the end zone made it 14-0 with 5:00 left in the half.
Three minutes later, Manning came right back, lofting a 33-yard rainbow touchdown to the only spot that heavily-guarded Philibert could make a terrific grab. The Greenies seemed right back in it, but Johnson, who spells Roberts to change the pace of the game, broke their spirit with his long touchdown pass to a wide open Scott. It was the only time all night Newman's defense allowed anything easy.
Behind the running of Joseph Pleasant
(68 yards rushing in the second half), Newman had its chances after intermission but three second-half turnovers did them in. The Greenies allowed only 43 yards in the second half which didn't surprise Newman coach Nelson Stewart. His team had allowed only 77 points all season coming in.
With such a strong effort on defense, Stewart was confident his squad would break the streak of semifinal losses.
Among those defeats over the years was to Haynesville in 1991 when Peyton Manning
was a sophomore quarterback and his star receiver was oldest brother,
senior Cooper Manning (Arch's dad). Peyton never again reached the
semifinals and Eli Manning never did.
Their nephew still has two more tries and with many talented returners, including sophomore tight end and defensive lineman William Randle
(eight catches, 72 yards Friday) and top two wideouts, sophomore Kai Donaldson
and junior AJ Johnson
, the future looks bright for Newman.
That was of little consolation to Stewart or any of the Greenies Friday night.
"I thought our defense was outstanding and played well enough for us to
win," he told VSN.com after the game. "It's very disappointing. We played
hard. We had our chances. We just came up a little short."