Town Crier Sports Staff
Manila was hoping to stretch their winning streak to three straight, but Paragould would have none of that as the Rams scored five first half touchdowns to run away with a 32-0 win in the Lions' season finale Thursday night at Paragould.
Things started well for Manila, as quarterback Blake Wheeler picked up 14 yards for a first down on the Lions first play from scrimmage. But the Ram defense stiffened, and forced a Manila punt three plays later.
Paragould wasted little time when tailback Derek Hayes rambled 64 yards on the Rams first play from scrimmage, giving Paragould a quick 6-0 lead with 5:19 left in the first quarter. Hayes point after attempt made the score 7-0 to give the Rams all the points they would need.
The Lions next possession ended in what would be an all too familiar scenario during the night when Paragould's Trent Wooldridge intercepted the first of his four thefts of the game, setting the Rams up at the Paragould 46 yard line.
Paragould proceeded on an eight play, 54 yard drive, capped off by quarterback Steven Vericker's 11 yard touchdown run at the 1:41 mark of the opening period. Hayes again was successful on the PAT, and the Rams held a 14-0 advantage.
Wooldridge struck again for his second interception when he picked off another Wheeler pass at the Lion 45 yard line, ending the first quarter. A Tyler Skelton 14- yard run, in addition to a face mask penalty, gave the Rams a first down at the Lion 29. Vericker then found flanker Zach Franks, who made an unbelievable headlong fingertip catch, giving the Rams a 20-0 lead at the 7:13 mark of the second quarter. The PAT failed.
Manila picked up a first down on their next possession on a 10-yard run by freshman Cody Webb, but once again were forced to punt, setting Paragould up at their own 46 yard line. Vericker sprinted around right end on the drive's first play, scampering 54 yards untouched into the end zone, building Paragould's lead to 26-0 with 3:31 left in the half.
The Rams struck once more when Wooldridge swiped his third pass of the game and raced 43 yards for a touchdown, giving Paragould a 32-0 lead at the half.
The second half was merely a formality as both teams emptied their benches, as the Lions watched their first season of football in over 30 years come to an end.
"I knew coming in that Paragould had a real good football team," said Manila Head Coach Toby Doke, whose Lions finished the season with a 2-5 record. "They will probably win the 4A East, which is probably one of the toughest conferences in the state of Arkansas.
"This has been a successful year in my eyes. We have gotten a lot accomplished this year, but we have a lot more to do. I am extremely proud of our kids. They have played hard and played with pride. They are proud to be Manila football players. We won back to back games after starting 0-4. Not many first year programs can say that. As a whole, we have improved drastically. Our kids have put in so much time. They make me proud as a coach. I am thankful that the town of Manila has afforded me this opportunity. I am extremely excited to have Coach Beall (Bill) with us. He has been a major, major asset. Coach Millgan (Steven) probably has the toughest job at our school. He is just finishing football, will go straight to basketball, and right after that will go into baseball. I appreciate both of them," concluded Doke.
Paragould was led statistically by Vericker, who ran five times for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The freshman quarterback was 1-3 passing for 29 yards and a touchdown. The Rams finished the night with 243 yards of total offense, including 207 on the ground.
Manila struggled to get their offense untracked, finishing with just 35 yards of total offense on 29 plays. Stephen Green led the Lions in rushing with 20 yards on one carry. Wheeler was 2-10 through the air for five yards with four interceptions. Jared Burkes came off the bench to hit one pass for nine yards. Dustin Hill led the Lions in receiving, catching one pass for nine yards.