NEW FRANKLIN: Like the proverbial cat, Gates Mills Hawken had a few extra lives Friday night.
Every time Manchester seemingly had things under control, Hawken went to its bag of tricks and put the outcome in doubt.
The Panthers ended up the top cats on this night, though, surviving some late drama to earn a 21-14 victory over visiting Hawken in a Division IV, Region 13 opening-round playoff game at James R. France Stadium.
Manchester (8-3) will face unbeaten Brookfield in a second-round game next Friday.
Twice Manchester enjoyed 14-point leads, the last one after a 9-yard touchdown run by quarterback Nick Peyakov in the final minute of the third quarter.
But with just over four minute left in the game, things got a bit scary for the Panthers.
A hook-and-lateral play for a Hawken touchdown, followed by a successful onside kick, suddenly put the Hawks (9-2) into position to tie the game.
Thanks to a defensive stand, and a holding penalty against Hawken, the Panthers stopped the Hawks on downs at the Manchester 40 and ran out the clock to the relief of a vocal home crowd.
Veteran coach Jim France lamented “stupid things” his team did to keep the Hawks in the game.
“We intercepted on the 2-yard line forcing us to go 90-whatever yards. Penalties killed us, and they were penalties. Guys grabbing face masks. Sometimes we’re not very smart, that’s all,” France said.
He was pleased to get his first win over Hawken after two losses in past years.
“They’re a well-coached team and I have a lot of respect for them,” he said. “Third time’s a charm.”
A 16-play, 96-yard drive that overlapped the first and second quarter resulted in Austin Klein’s 3-yard touchdown run for the first touchdown.
On the Panthers’ next possession, Peyakov found Chad Robertson in the left corner of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown.
Peyakov’s second of three extra-point kicks made it 14-0 with 1:07 left in the half.
Hawken went 87 yards on its first try of the second half, with junior quarterback Ian Bell racing 39 yards on a counter play, cutting it to 14-7.
Another long drive was capped by Peyakov’s 9-yard scramble. He vaulted a tackler while diving into the end zone, increasing the lead to 21-7.
But on its first play following a Manchester punt, Bell threw to Mark Murgiano for a 9-yard gain. Murgiano then pitched it to Khari Anderson who ran past defenders another 43 yards for a touchdown, making it 21-14 with 4:12 to go in the game.
“We knew they had that play,” said France, “but in the heat of the game, the kids got excited. It was a perfect call by them.”
The onside kick caused a few more anxious moments before the Panthers prevailed.
“They wanted this game, we just wanted it more,” said Manchester two-way player Garrett Smith, who made several standout defensive plays. “Our coach tells us if something bad happens, just suck it up and hit someone harder in the mouth on the next play.
“That’s how we’ve been playing all year and hopefully we can keep playing longer.”
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