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Dragons top Manchester in Defender Bowl battle, 28-22

2016 Defender Bowl Champions
2016 Defender Bowl Champions

Three-peat for West Union junior high squads –

Story and photos by Mark Carpenter –

It was an exciting night for everyone involved last Thursday evening at Greyhound Stadium in Manchester.  A battle between a pair of junior high football squads, the host Greyhounds and the visiting West Union Dragons, would determine the winner of the 2016 Adams County People’s Defender Bowl, allowing them to take home the beautiful trophy and hold bragging rights for another year.
With so much at stake in this backyard rivalry, the fans in attendance got a great performances by both teams in a tight game that wasn’t fully decided until the final quarter.  Behind four touchdowns from Briley Thomas, the Dragons held on and made it a three-peat, their third Defender Bowl win in a row, topping the Greyhounds by a final count of 28-22.
“We played our hardest against a Manchester team that is very good,” said West Union head coach Bobby Sandlin on the field after the win.  “It was an amazing game and we gave it our best and came together as a team.  I want to thank West Union football and Manchester for having us”
Pointing to the Defender Bowl trophy clutched in his arms, Sandlin added, “We gave maximum effort and gt a maximum reward.”

West Union’s Briley Thomas, left, outraces Manchester’s Caleb Wortman to the end zone for his third touchdown in the Dragons’ 28-22 win in last Thursday’s Defender Bowl.
West Union’s Briley Thomas, left, outraces Manchester’s Caleb Wortman to the end zone for his third touchdown in the Dragons’ 28-22 win in last Thursday’s Defender Bowl.

With the periods only being eight minutes long in junior high football, the time can go rather quickly, especially when teams rely on their ground games as these two did for the first period.  Manchester had the game’s first possession and held the ball for seven plays, before a pass on fourth and seven fell incomplete, turning the ball over on downs to the Dragons.  The West Union offense went nowhere in three plays and were forced to punt and the Hounds ended up with good field position at the West Union 44, but their offense couldn’t produce 10 yards and the Hounds punted again, but this time got the game’s first break.

The Greyhound punt bounced and hit West Union’s Ashton Barr, and was recovered by the Hounds’ Alex Walters, now setting up the home team in even better position at the WU 25, but that good fortune was fleeting when on the first play from scrimmage, Manchester quarterback Dakota Grooms lost the ball and it was picked up off the ground by Thomas, who promptly took it 82 yards down the sideline for the game’s first touchdown.. A two-point conversion pass was hauled in by Cameron Howell and the Dragons led 8-0.
The next Manchester offensive series led to another special teams miscue by the Dragons as the WU defense forced another punt and this one was muffed by Thomas and recovered by Manchester’s Walters again, giving the Hounds the ball at the West Union 37.
This time the home team would capitalize, as they drove the 37 yards in eight running plays, the final two yards coming when bruising running back Trey Spears dragged tacklers into the  end zone for the score.  Grooms ran across the two-point conversion with 48.9 seconds left and the first half ended with the score deadlocked at 8 apiece.
There are no kickoffs in junior high football so teams begin their possessions at their own 35 yard line, which is where the Dragons set up shop to begin the second half.  Four plays later, they were back in the lead.  A short dump-off pass on a fourth and six play from quarterback Brian Hunt to Thomas resulted in a 61-yard touchdown and when Jimmy Wallingford bulldozed over the two-point try, it was 16-8 West Union.

You may not tell by looking, but this pass was actually intended for a Manchester receiver, but broken up by West Union’s Ashton Barr during action from last week’s Defender Bowl.
You may not tell by looking, but this pass was actually intended for a Manchester receiver, but broken up by West Union’s Ashton Barr during action from last week’s Defender Bowl.

Not to be outdone, the Hounds took over on their 35 and took just one play to change the numbers on their side of the scoreboard.  A 65-yard touchdown run by quarterback Grooms on the first play from scrimmage put the Hounds within two, but the two-point try was stopped, leaving the Dragons up 16-14.
The Greyhounds got a golden opportunity to take the lead when the Dragons fumbled the ball away again, this time recovered by Manchester’s Rylan Bailey, giving the home team the ball at the Dragon 25, but four plays produced a holding penalty and a fourth down run that failed to produce the necessary yardage and the ball went back to West Union.
The Dragons took full advantage of their defense’s work, going 75 yards in just three plays, easily done when the third of those plays was a 62 yard touchdown scamper around left end by Thomas, the third time he had found the end zone in the game.  The conversion attempt was stopped, but the visitors had stretched their lead to 22-14 as the third quarter came to an end.

Early in the final period, the Dragons recovered a Manchester fumble and again took advantage turning that Greyhound mistake into six points when Thomas went long distance again, this time finding pay dirt from 58 yards out to give his team a 28-14 lead with 5:21 to play.
Give credit to the Hounds, however, who battled right back and with the clock as their enemy, drove 65 yards in 13 plays, all on the ground, culminating in a five yard scoring run by Grooms, who also ran in the two-point try, making it 28-22 with just 23.2 second remaining.
Out of timeouts and with the no kickoff rule not giving the option of an onside kick, the Hounds were against the wall as all the Dragons needed to do was make one good snap and take a knee, which quarterback Austin Grooms did as time ran out and the West Union squad celebrated as they took home their third consecutive Defender Bowl trophy and were later honored with a parade through the streets of their hometown.
The win improved the Dragons to 3-2 on the season, while Manchester fell to 0-4.

WUJH   0  8  14  6  –28
MJH   0  8  6  8 –22

Scoring Summary
Second Quarter
WUJH- Thomas 82 yd.. fumble return (Hunt to Howell conversion pass)
MJH- Spears 2 yd. run (D. Grooms conversion run)
Third Quarter
WUJH- Thomas 61 yd. pass from Hunt(Wallingford conversion run)
MJH- D. Grooms 65 yd. run (conversion failed)
WUJH- Thomas 62 yd. run (conversion failed)
Fourth Quarter
WUJH- Thomas 58 yd. run (conversion failed)
MJH- D. Grooms 5 yd. run (D. Grooms conversion run)

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