Town Crier Sports Staff
Rubin Hill broke off touchdown runs of 66 and 22 yards to lead the Cross County Thunderbirds to a 30-12 victory over Manila in junior high football action Thursday night at Cherry Valley.
The young Lions, playing in their second game of the year, continued to improve, but couldn't stop Hill, who ran through and around the Manila defense for 187 yards on 17 carries, as the Lions fell to 0-2 on the season.
Manila got a break early when freshman linebacker Zach Birmingham pounced on a Hill fumble to stop Cross County's opening drive that had reached the Lion 20 yard line.
Manila's Cody Webb broke off a 49-yard run on the Lion's first play from scrimmage before being pulled down from behind at the Thunderbird 27 yard line. Lion quarterback Blake Wheeler kept the drive alive by picking up a first down on a third and four play at the Cross County 16 yard line. But Wheeler had his pass picked off two plays later at the Thunderbird two yard line, stopping the Lion threat.
Manila's defense stopped the Thunderbirds and forced a punt, but the Lions misplayed the ball and Cross County recovered the fumble at their own 28 yard line to set up a fresh set of downs. Given new life, the T-Birds turned to Hill, who gained 11 yards on consecutive carries before bolting on a 66-yard touchdown jaunt to give Cross County a 6-0 lead with 6:00 left in the first half. Cross County quarterback Michael Bowles ran in the two point conversion to up the T-Bird lead to 8-0.
Manila went three and out on their next possession and punted the ball away to Cross County, who took over at the Lion 44 yard line. Hill picked up four yards on first down to set up Bowles' 40-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Blake Veasley. Bowles found the streaking Veasley down the left sideline and hit his receiver in stride to give the Thunderbirds a 14-0 lead. Hill tacked on the two point conversion on a run up the middle and Cross County held a 16-0 lead with 2:37 left in the half.
The Lions put together a scoring drive of their own on the next possession, marching 65 yards in just five plays, capped of by a 44 yard touchdown pass from Wheeler to split end Dustin Hill. It was Wheeler's second touchdown pass of the young season and pulled the Lions to 16-6 with 1:22 remaining in the half.
After a short kickoff, Cross County got the ball back and worked their way to the Manila 31 yard line with only five seconds left. Bowles rolled to his right and lofted a high, lazy pass that Veasley came down with at the five yard line, taking it in the rest of the way to shock the Lions with a touchdown just as the first half buzzer sounded, giving Cross County a 24-6 halftime advantage.
Hill bolted 22 yards late in the third quarter for his second touchdown of the game to push the T-Bird lead to 30-6.
Manila changed quarterbacks on their last possession of the game and freshman Jared Burkes scored the second Lion touchdown of the night from four yards out to set the final score at 30-12. The highlight of the drive was a 29-yard run by Josh Miles that set the Lions up with a first and goal at the T-Bird four yard line.
"We have to get better at our techniques," said Manila Coach Toby Doke. "We have to start flying to the football, all 11 players, and laying a hat on them. Both of our quarterbacks are doing a good job for us. Burkes gives us a threat running the ball, especially on the corner, while Wheeler is a good passer. It's a good tandem and we feel good about that. We just have to keep developing as a team. Cross County has their program on a roll and they are very well coached. But our kids will be fine. I am very proud of them," concluded Doke.
Manila (0-2) will return to action Thursday night when they travel to Paragould to play Greene County Tech. Kickoff is set for 6:00 p.m.