Town Crier Sports Staff
Hollywood couldn't have scripted Thursday night's junior high football game any better. Playing their first home game in 31 years, Manila's Junior Lions shut out Marked Tree 20-0 in front of what seemed like the entire town of Manila.
"I told our kids they had a chance to make history tonight, and they did," said Manila Coach Toby Doke. "I couldn't be prouder of a bunch of young men. They deserve this. They put in a lot of hard work and time and they have dedicated themselves to building a football program at Manila. Football is on the rise here and it is something that is extremely special."
The overflow crowd spilled out onto the field as the game concluded, celebrating with not only the players and coaches but with each other as well. It was an emotional night for everyone involved, from the administration down to the maintenance crews who helped prepare the field for the home opener.
"We want everyone to be a part of this - the administration, the fans, the cheerleaders, the band, the community, the teaching staff. Everyone has worked endless hours to put this together, and they have done it for our kids, and on behalf of our kids, I would like to say it is appreciated very much," said an emotional Doke.
"I also want to thank the coaching staff. They have put in a lot of hard work and long hours and deserve as much credit for this as anyone does. Their work does not go unnoticed."
Manila put together their most complete game of the season, both offensively and defensively, in dominating the Indians for most of the night.
Quarterback Dillon Burrow passed for one touchdown and ran for another while running back Landon Spain scored on a 46-yard dash as the Lions rolled up a season high 241 yards of total offense. The Lions were just as good on defense, holding Marked Tree to only 67 yards, 54 on the ground and 13 through the air.
Manila got on the board at the 6:46 mark of the second quarter when Spain darted through a gaping hole in the right side of the Marked Tree defensive line, scampering 46 yards to give Manila a 6-0 lead.
Marked Tree threatened to answer the Lion touchdown when Thadius Moore returned the Lion kickoff 30 yards to the Manila 47 yard line. The Indians picked up a first down and had the ball at the Lion 34 yard line, but Moore lost the handle on the football and Lion Tracey Reinhart jumped on the ball to thwart the Indians' only real threat of the night.
On Manila's first play after the turnover, Burrow found wide receiver Brent Ray open in the Marked Tree secondary, and the freshman galloped 65 yards before being pulled down from behind at the Indian two yard line. Burrow scored on a two-yard keeper to put the Lions up 12-0 with 4:05 left in the half.
Manila got their third touchdown on a 14-yard strike from Burrow to Reinhart with 2:46 left in the third quarter. Burrow's two point conversion run put the Lions up 20-0, and the Manila defense did the rest, as Manila won their second consecutive game, putting their record at 2-3 on the year.
"Our offense clicked tonight and the defense played extremely well, causing a couple of turnovers which added up to a victory for us," said Doke.
The Lions finished the night with 124 yards rushing on 24 carries, led by Spain's 74 yards. Burrow picked up another 43 while Brian Borden ran for seven. Burrow finished the night 4-6 passing for 117 yards. Ray caught two passes for 89 yards while Reinhart also grabbed a pair of receptions for 28 more.
Manila will return to action Thursday night when they travel to Paragould to take on the Rams.