MAN — For the second straight year, the Man High School football team lost to Tug Valley in the Class A playoffs.
Tug, the No. 12-ranked team in the state, defeated the Hillbillies 38-28 on Friday night at Man’s George A. Queen Memorial Field, avenging a 14-12 overtime loss earlier in the season to Man at Naugatuck.
The Panthers (8-3) beat Man 16-12 in last year’s playoffs. Tug Valley advances to play in the state quarterfinals next week at No. 4 Moorefield.
Man was down 22-0 at the half to the Panthers and never quit. Man (8-3) battled back and came to win two points at 30-28 before losing 38-28, thus ending the season.
“They just made more plays than we did,” Man coach Harvey Arms said. “We got the ball first and moved it two plays and then fumbled it and then we got behind.”
The Billies took the opening kickoff and moved the ball on passes to Ross Osborne and Matt Sanders to the Tug Valley 48 and then fumbled the ball away.
The Panthers then drove the football down to the Man 20-yard line and fumbled the ball back to Man.
Man was three-and-out and was forced to punt as the Panthers got the ball at the Billies’ 44-yard line.
Four plays later, Tug got on the scoreboard on a 12-yard jaunt by Phillip Lucas — his first of three touchdowns on the night. The drive was kept alive on a cruical personal foul — a late hit by Man — as the Panthers took the early 6-0 lead with 2:52 remaining in the opening quarter. The two-point conversion failed.
Once again, the Billies’ offense sputtered and was forced to punt as the second stanza began as the Panthers took over at their own 20 after a good punt by Jake Adkins.
Nine plays later, the Panthers hit pay dirt on Lucas’ 5-yard run at the 8:54 mark of the second period. Calvin Blankenship caught the conversion pass from Tyler Conley to make it 14-0.
The Panthers added another score just before the half as Lucas caught a 14-yard pass from Conley. Blankenship then added the conversion from Jeremy Dillion to give the Panthers a 22-0 lead heading into the locker room. Tug Valley had 234 yards of total offense to Man’s 58 yards in the first half of play.
The Billies never quit as they would battle back in the second half.
Tug Valley fumbled the ball on its second play from scrimmage to open the second half at its own 21-yard stripe.
Just six plays later, the Billies got on the board as John Thomas Keffer hooked up with his favorite receiver Osborne for a 22-yard strike. Gabby Brown then caught the conversion pass from Keffer to make it 22-8 with 9:20 to go in the third quarter.
The Panthers then answered with a score of their own, marching 55 yards to pay dirt, capped off by a Corbin Oliver 2-yard TD run with 4:26 to go. Dylan Dotson scored on the conversion to make it 30-8.
The Billies then took over the football at their own 42-yard line and just four plays later Man was on the scoreboard again as Keffer found Sanders for a 24-yard TD catch with 2:17 left in the third quarter of play to make it 30-14.
The Billies then scored again, moving the ball 70 yards in just five plays. On a big fourth-and-eight at their own 42-yard line, Keffer tossed a perfect strike to Osborne near the end zone for a 58-yard TD. The conversion pass failed as Man cut the deficit to 30-20 with 10 :23 to play.
Sanders then came up with a big interception to give the Billies the pigskin at their own 25-yard line. Ten plays later Man struck the end zone again, ripping the Tug Valley defense as Keffer bulled in from 1-yard out. Brown caught the point after play to cut the Panthers’ lead to 30-28 with 6:56 to go.
Tug Valley took over on its own 47-yard line and marched to the Man 14-yard line and then on fourth-and-four Jeremy Dillon was hemmed up by three Man defenders but managed to reverse his field, taking the ball to the 1-yard line.
Panthers’ QB Tyler Conley then bulled in from 1 yard out and tacked on the conversion run to give Tug a 38-28 lead with just 2:31 to play in the game.
Keffer finished the game 13-for-24 passing for 196 yards and three touchdowns in his final game in a Billies’ football uniform. He finished the season completing 113-for-192 of his passes for 1,726 yards with 27 TDs and seven picks.
Keffer led Man’s rushing attack with 17 carries for 46 yards.
Osborne had nine catches for 151 yards with two scores. He closed out the 2015 season with 67 receptions for 974 yards and 15 scores.
Man was led on defense by senior Christain McCoy with 17 tackles. Tyler Blair had 11, while Ross Osborne, Richie Nelson and Dustin McCoy had 7 tackles each.
Tug Valley was led in rushing by Oliver with 98 yards on 15 attempts and one TD. Phillip Lucas had 14 carries for 52 yards and two touchdowns while Conley was 11-for-17 passing for 126 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The Panthers outgained Man 361-254 in yards of total offense.