GREENVILLE – Friday’s game between J.L. Mann and Riverside must have been the only one in the state that matched up quarterbacks who each threw six touchdown passes in their respective teams’ season openers a week earlier. After a five-touchdown first quarter in which the offenses were as hot as the sun that was beating down over Slaton Field, it appeared the Patriots’ Ethan Anderson and Warriors’ Ty Breeze had picked up where they left off.
But with Mann still leading 21-14 late in the second quarter, Anderson limped to the sideline and didn’t return. Drive-killing penalties that started in the first half only got more numerous after halftime and it was still 21-14 late in the third quarter. There was a sense that the next team to finally break through for another score could take command.
Mann’s Mikel McClellan proved that sense was real as he broke through with the kind of touchdown that old men should tell their grandkids about some day. That score started a run of three touchdowns in less than five minutes as the Patriots pulled away for a 42-14 win. McClellan, a 5-foot-8, 166-pound senior, accounted for 234 of Mann’s 599 yards of total offense.
“He’s (McClellan) unbelievable. There’s nothing he can’t do,” Patriots coach Scoot Watson said. “We talk about our keys to victory before every game and one of those is second effort. That touchdown was a second-effort play.
“I was concerned about our quarterback getting banged up, but our sophomore quarterback McCleod Darnell came in, managed the game and did a good job. … We will just have to wait and see (about Anderson’s injury).”
When Anderson left, McClellan shifted to quarterback for the final play of that drive and the final possession of the first half for Mann (2-0). While the Patriots still moved the ball, thanks to runs of 12 and 40 yards by McClellan, it was pretty evident that the move made them a more one-dimensional offense.
Coming out of halftime, McClellan shifted back to receiver when Darnell entered at quarterback. With 1:26 left in the third quarter and the Patriots at the Riverside 18-yard line, McClellan caught a screen pass that seemingly everybody in the visiting white jerseys read. The best-case scenario for Mann appeared to be about a three-yard loss, but McClellan spun out of that initial wave of defenders. Then he just kept spinning away until suddenly he was all alone about the 15-yard-line. Somehow he wasn’t completely dizzy from all the spinning and he maintained his footing as he scurried into the end zone to help extend the lead to 28-14.
“We got stuffed at the goal line on our previous drive, so I was just thinking ‘I can’t go down here. We need it.’ It was a big momentum changer,” McClellan said. “Before the game, we had a big talk about ‘count on me.’ Everybody should be able to count on each other. One of the best quarterbacks in the state went down, so I had to step up.”
After Riverside (1-1) reached midfield on its ensuing possession. Mann’s defense – which settled in nicely after that opening quarter – came up with a big play. Sophomore linebacker Jacari Bennett, who never quite got a sack but spent much of Friday night in the Warriors’ backfield, hit Breeze as he threw and the ball floated into the arms of sophomore cornerback Jadyn Rice for an interception.
On the next play, Obadiah Jones went 62 yards untouched up the middle to push Mann’s lead to 35-14 with 39.7 seconds left in the quarter.
“It was bittersweet (not getting the sack),” Bennett said with a smile. “I thought he fumbled it, but then I looked up and saw we picked it, so I was like, ‘alright, I’m happy.’ ”
Mann’s defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession that unfortunately ended with Breeze down after a third-down incompletion on the first play of the fourth quarter. After several seconds, Breeze got up but also limped off and didn’t return.
Three plays later, McClellan turned a third-down slant pass into a 61-yard gain. On the next play, Na’Cyus Morrison ran for a 13-yard touchdown to close out the scoring.
After giving up 188 yards in the first half, Mann’s defense allowed just 47 in the second half.
“I have confidence in my defense. We had a couple of busted coverages in the first quarter,” Watson said. “We made a few adjustments at halftime. … Jacari is a high-motor guy. You can always count on him to make a big play.
McClellan caught seven passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran three times for 52 yards. In his shortened night, Anderson completed 9-of-12 passes for 161 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Jones had 113 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while Morrison ran for 98 yards and two scores.
Breeze, a transfer from Goose Creek, completed 7-of-10 passes for 141 yards in the first half, including a pair of beautiful deep throws that hit receivers in stride for touchdowns of 36 and 51 yards, respectively. Mann limited Breeze to 0-for-7 passing in the second half before he left with the injury. Mikkel Skinner, a 6-foot-3, 208-pound receiver who often lines up the backfield, had 74 of Riverside’s 79 yards rushing on 11 carries.
“I think (Breeze) is going to be fine. He’s new to us, so he’s still learning too,” Riverside coach Matt Rochester said. “I hated to see them get hurt. They’re both really good quarterbacks.”