The Manchester football team is banged up at the running back position.
With senior Austin Klein and junior Logan Harvey out with injuries, Manchester coach Jim France didn’t panic.
He turned to others to step up and run the ball behind a solid group of offensive linemen.
Enter junior Mason Hayes and senior John Beavers, who answered the call to help Manchester defeat Fairless 35-7 last weekend and advance to play Columbiana Crestview (11-1) in the Division V, Region 15 final at 7 tonight at Minerva’s Dr. Robert H. Hines Stadium.
Manchester (10-2) is three wins shy of winning a state title, which would be the first for France, 70, during his 42-year tenure as the Panthers’ leading man.
“We have had two really big wins, beating [Youngstown] Ursuline and Fairless the past two weeks,” France said. “Our kids are really happy with where they are at. We want to win this regional championship and practice for another week.”
Manchester, making its 21st playoff appearances since the postseason started in 1972, last won a regional title in 1997. The Panthers finished the 1997 season as Division IV state runners-up to Germantown Valley View after a five-overtime thriller.
“We played two of our best games of the season the past two weeks,” France said. “It has been a lot of fun watching this team come together.”
The team has come together with Klein unfortunately out after suffering a knee injury two weeks ago in Manchester’s 19-16 win over Ursuline. Klein rushed for 883 yards and nine touchdowns on 150 carries before getting hurt.
“Austin is very disappointed that he is not part of the activities, but he got the word that if we win this week there is a good chance that he could play again,” France said. “He has that hope that he could play next week if we pull this one off.
“They originally thought it was one of those bad ones, but they did some MRIs and it is more of a sprain than a tear. We just found that out [Thursday].”
France said if Klein does play next week, he will wear a brace.
Harvey (193 yards, three touchdowns, 30 carries) is also out with a sprained knee.
“I don’t know what his status is,” France said. “The trainers are working with him. They got him a brace and are doing some rehab with him. He will not be back this week.”
Hayes will be in the lineup and has impressed the past two weeks. He has rushed for 659 yards and 20 touchdowns this season on 130 carries. Through the 10-game regular season, he had 422 yards and 15 touchdowns on 75 carries.
“It feels good to just do it for my team,” Hayes said. “The offensive linemen are doing great. They are getting me to where I need to get.
“It is hard having guys out with injuries. I expected that I was going to have to run the ball a lot more and put in more effort going both ways.”
Hayes also plays defensive tackle and defensive end. He was a reserve tight end and middle linebacker last year at Coventry.
Beavers has rushed for 521 yards and scored four touchdowns on 88 carries this season.
France said junior Anthony Miltner “really opened things up” last week and rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown in his first eight carries of the season.
“Running the football is what we like to do,” senior two-way lineman Jacob Hanzel said. “We like it when our opponent knows that we are going to run the football and they can’t stop it. We practice it, and get low and run the ball. It is a great feeling to know that they know we are going to run the ball at them and we get that push.”
Hanzel joins sophomore John Durgala, junior Drew Brasiel and seniors Kodi Berry and David Gresham up front each week to block and establish the running game.
“We want to be that second team to make history, get past this round and go to the state semifinal,” Hanzel said. “The 1997 team went all the way to the state championship game and was close to winning it. We want to go and be that first Manchester team to win a state title in football. We know coach France and this community deserve it. Having said that, we still take it one game at a time and focus on what is coming up each week.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.