Freedom QB Quest Powell and Manchester QB Brendon Clark (Photos: Andy Hilton/recruitNoVA and Sheridan King/recruit804)
Both Freedom and Manchester go to their first ever State Championship game
by Jim McGrath, recruitNoVA/recruit804
Manchester (14-0) vs. Freedom-Woodbridge (13-1), Armstrong Stadium, Hampton University, Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
How They Got Here:
Freedom defeated C.D. Hylton (42-7), Hayfield (29-19), W.T. Woodson (21-16) in 6D Region Championship, and Westfield (35-28) in state semifinal to earn their spot.
Manchester defeated James River (49-0), Thomas Dale (48-7), Colonial Forge (21-7) in 6B Region Championship, and Ocean Lakes (42-3) to qualify for the final.
For a team that had never played in the state’s “Final Four” before last week, Manchester is coming into Armstrong Stadium looking like seasoned veterans. Against Ocean Lakes, the Lancers picked off Dolphin quarterback Xander Jedlick three times, while holding the home team to 229 yards in a 42-3 pasting. K.J. McNeil returned one of the passes 65 yards for a touchdown, and McNeil, who is also the Lancers’ leading receiver, caught five passes and scored on a five-yard run. Tre Clark, Kevin Henderson Jr. and Collin Harding should also find some balls headed their way, while Alston Robinson had a 57-yard scoring reception last week.
But the heartbeat of the Manchester offense is its quarterback, Brandon Clark. Clark is a threat in the air and on the ground. For the season, the 6-2, 190-pound senior has thrown for over 2,100 yards with 33 touchdowns against just a single interception. He has also run for 656 yards and 16 scores, including a 26-yarder that put Manchester on the board first against the team from Virginia Beach. Roemell Garcia has averaged 12 yards per carry while tallying just under 700 yards. The Lancer offense is explosive, averaging 55 points per game, and Clark, who de-committed from Wake Forest during the summer, has recommitted, this time to Notre Dame.
Isaiah Todd is the featured back who surpassed the 1,000-yard plateau last week. He runs behind a large line, anchored by Virginia Tech-bound Will Pritchard (6-3, 290, G). Defensively, Hakeem Beamon (6-3, 254, DE), who has committed to Penn State, leads a defense that has allowed just 4.5 points per game in 2018. Jaden davis leads the team in tackles with 68, and the Lancers have 26 interceptions, led by Kei’trel Clark and Kwame Delaney, with five a piece.
Freedom is another newcomer to state final play, having scored an 18-94 record for its first 11 seasons, leading to 2016, when Coach Darryl Overton took over. Overton, now in his third year, has gone 32-5. Since losing a 42-28 decision to Lake Taylor in early September, the Eagles have rattled off 11 straight wins, and their close victories in two straight weeks against favored teams (W.T. Woodson and Westfield), shows their playoff grit.
The offensive and defensive lines serve as the dual catalysts to Freedom’s ability to control games. Josh Fuga is the linchpin for both lines. The Temple commit, and Region 6A defensive player of the year, is hard to move at 6-1 and 323 pounds. He gets help on both sides of the ball from Kealey Davis (6-3, 240), Damien Holloway, and Jordan Leach, who stopped Westfield’s Joe Clancy from scoring the game tying touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the Eagle 6 with just 25 seconds remaining in the game.
The Eagle offense puts almost 40 points on the scoreboard every week, and the unit is turbo-charged with quarterback Quest Powell and running back Tyquan Brown.
Powell has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns this season while keeping an array of players involved in the offense.
Tyquan Brown is the key cog. Brown became the Prince William County all-time rushing leader against Westfield, and the senior has now gained 2,539 rushing yards this season, and is approaching 6,600 for his prep career. Brown has also rushed for 25 touchdowns. Although he sprained a shoulder in the win over the Bulldogs, all signs point to Brown being in the backfield this Saturday. If not, expect to see much more of Julian Edwards, who has amassed close to 750 rushing yards this season, and 119 with a touchdown in Brown’s place last week.
Powell has an array of receivers to choose from. Tight end Nazir Armstrong leads the team in receptions, but Brown has caught two dozen balls out of the backfield, and Jason Hawkins has added several receiving TD’s as the third target. Of course, there is also Umari Hatcher, who caught the game-winning touchdown against Woodson in the 6D region final. On Hatcher’s play, Powell changed the play in the huddle, turning Hatcher’s 12-yard out pattern into a fly, and the sophomore opened up a five-yard gap between himself and the Woodson cornerback before hauling in the clutch catch.
Without Westfield and Oscar Smith in the final for the first time in three years, it will be unique to see two new teams duke it out for the Class 6 championship.
On paper, Manchester and their 50 point per game differential look too tough for Freedom. However, two tough playoff wins in a row have given the Eagles a collective soul and a viable chance to knock off yet one more heavyweight.
– Jim McGrath