CELINA — St. Marys senior tailback D.J. Manning grabbed a blue flag with ‘Go Riders’ stitched in gold lettering on it and raced down the visiting sideline at Celina Stadium, leading the entire St. Marys football team in celebration of returning bragging rights back east across Grand Lake St. Marys.
Manning ran down those sidelines all night.
A senior-laden offensive line paved the way for Manning as he rushed for 335 yards and scored four touchdowns — including a pair of long scores in the fourth quarter to lift St. Marys (3-2, 2-2 WBL) to a 32-20 win over rival Celina (0-5, 0-4) at Celina Stadium on Friday night.
The 335 yards on 36 carries is the second-most rushing yards by a Roughrider running back in a single game — 31 yards shy of the school-record 366 yards Manning posted just four weeks earlier. St. Marys rushed for 344 yards as a team.
“He gets in the secondary and he’s got the extra gear,” St. Marys head coach Greg Phillips said.
To hear the 6-foot 180-pound senior talk about them, the touchdown runs of 85, 5, 37 and 53 yards were simple.
“The line did a great job blocking,” Manning said. “They stopped us in the second half, but we kept going at it and eventually the holes opened up...There’s a hole there, the line blocks it and I just run it. There’s nothing else about it.”
Trying to stop St. Marys’ rushing game has been anything but simplistic.
Manning now has more than 1,200 yards rushing and has scored 13 touchdowns in five games this season. The blistering pace also has St. Marys over .500 this late in a season for the first time since 2009, when St. Marys began the campaign 5-2.
The game-winning run early in the fourth halted Celina’s 12-point third quarter run and rejuvenated a Rider team that had missed chances early to put away the Bulldogs.
Manning broke a tackle and chugged 37 yards down the left sideline with just over nine minutes left in the game to give the Roughriders a lead they’d never relinquish.
After St. Marys’ defense stopped Celina’s offense on two three-and-outs in the fourth quarter, Manning sealed the game with a 53-yard touchdown run down the right sideline that sent much of the Celina fans packing for the exits. On his final score, Manning shed a tackle seven yards from the line of scrimmage, twisted away and bolted down the sideline.
“We felt like if we just kept leaning on the running game, we could break one,” Phillips said. “And we knew if we got No. 25 (Manning) into the secondary, there was a good chance he was gone.”
Celina entered the game giving up a WBL-worst 282 yards rushing per game. The Bulldogs failed again to stop the run on Friday.
“We continued to miss tackles,” Celina head coach Jared Rolfes said after watching his team slump to 0-5 on the season despite being in the thick of all five losses. “Just missed assignments and missed tackles and not getting off blocks. It’s a young team. I love our young guys, but they’re young. Nothing we can change about it.”
St. Marys’ defense kept Celina’s balanced spread attack under wraps. Celina quarterback Braden Billger finished the game 27-of-41 for 204 yards and two touchdowns, but the junior signal caller was picked off twice and never burned St. Marys deep against sophomore corners Adam Brown and Jared Knous.
“We have two sophomore corners and we felt like if we blitzed them we had those guys going man-to-man on an island,” Phillips said. “We wondered if the risk was worth the rewards. There aren’t many sophomores starting at corner in the WBL, but we do and we’re fortunate they’re playing well. They tackle well and play hard.”
“I didn’t think we played very well offensively,” Rolfes said. “I thought we were pretty inconsistent. They were giving us things we wanted, but we were missing it early. We weren’t able to run the ball as well as we liked and I probably got away from it.”
Celina rushed for 20 yards on 18 carries.
Even after finding a rhythm and scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter to take a brief 20-16 lead, Celina had to use 14 and 11 plays on the scoring drives to get touchdowns.
Billger went 11-for-16 for 78 yards and a touchdown in that third quarter, but the Bulldogs never were able to get the ball downfield against a young St. Marys defensive secondary that gave a cushion and made sure tackles.
The Roughriders' start to games have been nothing short of spectacular. Manning and the Riders did it again on Friday to start the game with an 85-yard run.
St. Marys has scored first in all five of its games this season. For the second time this season St. Marys scored on its first offensive play from scrimmage of a game. Manning weaved his way through traffic on the right side of the line and bolted for the right sideline for an 85-yard touchdown that gave the Riders an 8-0 lead.
Celina tied the game at 8-8 in the second quarter on a Braelen Bader 12-yard touchdown catch.
Manning scored his second touchdown with just 28 seconds remaining in the first half with a five-yard score on third and goal. The touchdown capped an impressive 10-play 65-yard scoring drive in the late part of the second quarter. A key play to get the score was a T.J. Powell to Tre Sherman 22-yard pass play to convert a key third and five. Five Manning runs and a Dustin Fisher end around later St. Marys led 16-8 at the half.
Celina scored two straight touchdowns in the third quarter, but the Bulldogs failed to convert on either two-point conversion.
Celina marched down the field after scooping up a Manning fumble three plays into the second half. Celina’s 14-play drive culminated with a Zach Hembree two-yard touchdown run. During the drive, Celina converted two third downs and got a first down on a fourth and two on a St. Marys offsides call. St. Marys led 16-14 with 6:14 left in the third quarter after Billger got stuffed trying to run in the two-point conversion near the right front pylon.
Celina took its only lead of the game late in the third quarter after Billger engineered an 11-play scoring drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown reception by Craig Welker on third and goal. The two-point conversion again failed with an incomplete pass and Celina led 20-16 to set up St. Marys’ big fourth quarter.
Mitch Fowler’s interception off a deflection by a Celina wide receiver allowed St. Marys to wring the final two minutes from the clock and allow its student section to stream onto the visiting field to celebrate the rivalry win.
“It’s one of those rivalries,” Phillips said. “It lived up to the billing for me.”
St. Marys now looks to make it three wins in a row when it hosts Defiance at Skip Baughman Stadium next week. Celina will look for its first win of the season when it travels to winless Van Wert next Friday.
— St. Marys linebacker John Phillipe got St. Marys’ a sack in the second quarter, throwing Billger for a two-yard loss.
— Sherman and Fowler intercepted the two passes. St. Marys moved to plus-eight in turnover margin this season after being plus-one against Celina.
— The Riders scored 30 or more points in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 2007, when the Riders posted 35 and 47 points against O-G and Van Wert.
— St. Marys also won back-to-back games for the first time since 2009, when St. Marys defeated Wapakoneta and O-G in Weeks six and seven.
— Manning missed a 33-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter .
ST. MARYS 32
SM 8 8 0 16 — 32
CEL 0 8 12 0 — 20
SM — D.J. Manning 85-yard touchdown run (Tre Sherman 2-pt. conversion run), SM 8-0, 9:31 (1-play, 85-yard drive, T.O.P. 0:15).
C — Braelen Bader 12-yard touchdown reception from Braden Billger (Jack Hinders 2-pt. conversion run), 8-8, 5:48 (11-play, 80-yard drive, T.O.P. 4:22).
SM — Manning 5-yard touchdown run, (Manning 2-pt. conversion run) SM 16-8, 0:28 (10-play, 65-yard drive, T.O.P. 5:20).
C — Zach Hembree 2-yard touchdown reception from Billger (2-pt. conversion failed), SM 16-14, 6:14 (14-play, 54-yard drive, T.O.P. 4:45).
C — Craig Welker six-yard touchdown reception (2-pt. conversion failed), C20-16, 0:26 (11-play, 48-yard drive, T.O.P. 3:57).
SM — Manning 37-yard touchdown (Dustin Fisher 2-pt. pass reception from T.J. Powell) SM 24-20, 9:06 (7-play, 66-yard drive, T.O.P. 3:20).
SM — Manning 53-yard touchdown (Powell 2-pt. conversion run), SM 32-20, 2:19 (3-play, 58-yard drive, T.O.P. 1:38).
ST. MARYS — T.J. Powell 2-3-27.
CELINA — Braden Billger 27-41-204, 2 TD, 2 INT.
RUSHING: ST. MARYS — D.J. Manning 36-335, 4 TDs; T.J. Powell 3- (-)5, Jared Knous 1-4, Steven Paulus 1-1, Brad Axe 1-1, Spencer Hunt 1-1, Dustin Fisher 2-7. CELINA — Braden Billger 3 (-)12, Zach Hembree 14-29, Braelen Bader 1-3.
ST. MARYS — Tre Sherman 1-22, Dustin Fisher 1-5.
Rushing 45-344 18-20
Yds. Per Car. 7.6 1.1
Passing 2-3-27 27-42-204
Penalties 6-35 3-30