Jason Mansell’s first two experiences on Clarence High School’s turf field were most unpleasant. He made sure the third time was a charm.
Mansell used his arms, legs, and foot to lead the Legends to a 23-17 win over the Red Devils in a Class AA Section VI quarterfinal on Friday night, avenging a Week 3 overtime loss on the same field.
“Wow. This is incredible, this is a special night,” Mansell said. “That was a tough, hard-fought game. All respect to Clarence. But we just couldn’t lose that game, we just wouldn’t let it happen.”
The Legends lost last year’s Far West Regionals to Aquinas, 39-7, and then dropped a 27-26 heartbreaker to the Red Devils when a two-point conversion was stopped inside the 1-yard line in overtime.
“The Aquinas game, certainly we try to forget that,” Lancaster coach Eric Rupp said. “But Week 3 was tough here. I gave our pregame speech right on the six-inch line down there and said, ‘Listen, you were this close. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen today.”
For most of the night, it looked like Lancaster was going to keep Clarence an arm’s length away. But the Red Devils weren’t done. Zach Norton’s one-yard TD closed the gap to 23-17 with 1:59 left. Then, Clarence sent the home side into a frenzy by recovering the onside kick.
But the Legends came up big on defense and forced a four-and-out.
“At that point, we tried to go underneath a little bit and stretch the field but they played good defense in that last series,” Clarence coach Paul Burgio said. “They earned it.”
The Legends have also now won nine consecutive Section VI playoff games and are 45-3 against local opponents since the start of the 2016 season. Fifth-seeded Lancaster will travel to top-seed Jamestown for a semifinal at 7 p.m. next Friday at Strider Field.
“We’ve had so much adversity this year so we’re ready for anything,” Mansell said. “Yeah, it’ll be tough going down there, but we’ll be ready.”
And the Legends are making that trip largely because of their junior quarterback. Mansell threw for a modest 139 yards on a rainy night, including a 37-yard TD pass to Nick Castellana that opened the scoring. But he also did damage on the ground. Not usually known for his mobility, he ran for touchdowns of 14 and 10 yards, the latter including a pair of jukes, much to the delight of his teammates.
“He’s elusive,” senior lineman Conor Mahony said with a laugh. “I’d never seen that in practice out of him but he can do that, too, I guess. He’s dangerous.
“Jason’s a true leader. He can do anything for us that we need him to do. My hat’s off to him every week.”
He also delivered with his punting game. He dropped a 50-yard boot at the 2-yard line late in the first half. On the next play, with Dan Empfield applying the heat, Clarence quarterback Jason Berchou was whistled for intentional grounding in the end zone. The safety gave the Legends a 9-3 halftime lead.
Lancaster led 15-3 entering the fourth when the Red Devils – in need of quick points – made a quarterback change from Berchou – who ran the ball more than twice as much as he passed in the regular season – to strong-armed sophomore Julius Perry. It paid off right away as Perry found Alexander Sykas for a 49-yard TD in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
“JB was a little banged up and we haven’t really been in a situation where we really had to throw it a lot,” Burgio said. “Julius, all year we’ve practiced that with him, that’s his skill set. Things weren’t clicking offensively, so we figured, ‘Let’s give it a go.'”
The Red Devils – who also got a 35-yard field goal from Ian Fosdick – dropped to 5-3 with the loss. After losing the talented QB-WR combo of Jack Putney and Jon Stevens to graduation, Clarence wasn’t circled on a whole lot of calendars this season. But the Red Devils proved to be a factor in Class AA all season long.
“We’re just looking for respect,” Burgio said. “We lost two really good players last year and lot of people picked us to be bottom half in this division but 27 seniors on this team felt differently. To play them twice in a season, I don’t know if anyone’s beaten them twice in a season in this area and we came within a score of doing it.”
Lancaster hasn’t lost to the same opponent twice in a season since 2007 (Orchard Park).