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Missed conversion key as Webb edges rallying West
Manning scores twice, has 11 stops in 28-27 dramatic Spartan victory

If football games were made into epic sagas, then the season opener between the Webb School of Knoxville Spartans and the West High School Rebels would be one for the record books.

The game, which took place Friday, Aug. 18, at West High School’s Bill Wilson Field, was highlighted by several turnovers and the injury of senior A.J. Kirby-Jones fairly early in the game.

Despite rallying from two touchdowns behind to pull with a point after a short touchdown pass with 23 seconds to play, the Rebels fell short thanks to a missed extra-point in a 28-27 Spartan victory.

The Rebels did recover the onside kick near midfield with 19 seconds remaining, but two plays later, a Webb interception by senior Zack Dickson ended any chance the Rebels had of slaying the Spartans.

“Offensively we played perfect,” Webb head coach Dave Meske said. “Defensively we’ve got a way to go.

“I’m really proud of these guys.”

Among the Webb standouts was senior Chad Manning, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound fullback/linebacker who rushed for 109 yards on 15 carries while leading the Spartans with 11 tackles, five solo, on defense.

West elected to receive the kickoff and began moving the ball slowly up the field despite the defensive efforts of the Spartans. That’s when Webb began showing the Rebels the Spartan power.

The ball was on the Spartan 32-yard line and an attempted pass by West quarterback Jake Ryan was fumbled and recovered by Kirby-Jones, who ran it all the way to the West 18-yard line before being brought down with 6:23 left in the first quarter.

“I wasn’t really thinking about going for six,” said Kirby-Jones, who was lost for the game with an ankle injury shortly after the recovery. “I was just thinking about moving the ball down the field as far as possible. It was a good team effort.”

Kirby-Jones, who plays a dual role for Webb at offensive guard and defensive end, is one of his team’s better players according to Meske. Adding his loss was felt during the game, the Spartan coach said he didn’t know how long Kirby-Jones might be on the injured list.

Two plays after the recovery, Spartan running back Bo Johnson — who rushed for 82 yards during the game — scored from 18 yards out. Kicker Steve Ball converted the extra point, making it 7-0.

On the following play, Ball kicked off to the Rebels, landing his kick near the West goal line. The Rebel kick returner threaded his way through the Spartan line until only Ball remained between him and a touchdown. Ball brought him down after a 35-yard return, dropping him on the Webb 40-yard line.

“It was a key thing to the game,” Ball said. “I was just thinking about tying him up so the other guys could get to him.”

The Rebels continued to push the line, making small advances with quick passes, but the Spartan defense held them, forcing the Rebels to punt on fourth-and-seven with a little more than three minutes left in the first quarter.

Spartan quarterback Blake Beeler began moving the ball up the field with the help of his offensive line and passes to Johnson.

Johnson ran the ball in from 10-yards out and Ball kicked the extra point, making it 14-0 Spartans early in the second quarter.

The loss of Kirby-Jones seemed to have affected the defensive line because in the next few minutes, the Rebels were able to push the Spartans back with gains of 10 and 20 yards. The Rebels pushed on in to score and converted the extra point with 6:38 left in the second quarter, making it 14-7 Spartans.

Kirby-Jones disagreed that his absence was the cause. “I think the young guys really stepped up and did a good job,” he said.

The Spartans matched the Rebels with their own onslaught, which lead to Brandt Campbell taking the ball in for a touchdown with 4:10 remaining in the second quarter. Ball was consistent during the game, converting all four extra points plus putting one kickoff into the end zone.

Spartan defenders kept the Rebels on their toes, but best efforts couldn’t stop the Rebel charge. With 45 seconds remaining in the first half, West scored another touchdown but missed the extra point, making the score 21-13 Spartans at the half.

The start of the second half saw a completely different Spartan team, one that lacked focus.

“We completely lost focus and discipline at the beginning of the second half,” Meske said.

West was able to move the ball quickly and hit paydirt with six minutes left in the third quarter. The Rebels went for two and got it, making it 21-21.

The start of the fourth quarter saw the Spartan defense holding the West offense on its own 48 with 4th-and-1. A delay of game penalty cost the Rebels five yards, making it fourth-and-6.

The Rebels punted but recovered a fumble after a bobbled catch attempt at the Webb 25.

Then it was the Rebels turn to make a mistake. A West fumble led to a Spartan recovery by Graham Campbell.

Webb began to move the ball downfield, which senior Chad Manning did to paydirt with 2:26 remaining. Ball followed with the extra point, and the Spartans regained a small 28-21 lead.

The Rebels, however, hadn’t lost their fight. They began to move the ball into scoring position, and, with 23 seconds left on the clock, Ryan made it 28-27 on a short TD pass. But West sophomore Chris Ritts sent his kick wide right to leave the Rebels a point short.


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