EDENTON — For a few minutes, it looked like the second meeting this season between John A. Holmes football and Manteo would be far different than when the Aces shut out the Redskins 56-0 in the regular season.
Manteo, No. 6 in the 1AA east, managed to have a much better start than the Oct. 31 game against its conference foe as it scored two consecutive touchdowns to take an early lead in the first quarter.
But the game soon became much more like the first meeting as No. 2 John A. Holmes settled down and won the third round game 61-20 behind 54 first-half points.
“They wanted to come in and show that they were a better team than they were the first time we played them,” John A. Holmes coach Paul Hoggard said of Manteo. “We did make some mistakes that attributed to some of that, but overall, I thought our kids handled adversity well, remained calm, got back and kind of took care of business.”
Friday night started out innocently enough for the Aces (12-0) as the defense forced a Manteo three-and-out on the game’s first possession and the offense following suit with a 21-yard Mitjonta Stanley keeper for a 6-0 lead 2:15 in.
Manteo (11-3), however, struck right back with a 47-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Bryson Sawyer to junior Mekhi Bias on the first play of its next drive.
The point-after attempt was successful as the Redskins scored their first points against Edenton this season and held a 7-6 lead.
Manteo’s defense carried over the momentum forcing a three-and-out and on the very first play of the ensuing offensive possession, the Redskins once again scored thanks to a 47-yard run from Kolton Frady.
It gave Manteo a 14-6 lead with 7:43 remaining in the first quarter and the game kept snowballing on Edenton when it fumbled the following kickoff and the Redskins recovered.
Starting on the Aces’ 38-yard line, Manteo eventually earned a first down, but that’s when Edenton settled in as the Redskins didn’t gain another yard and turned the ball over on downs.
As the Edenton defense finally halted the Redskins’ momentum, the Aces grabbed it with a 73-yard touchdown pass from Stanley to senior Keenan Downing down the Edenton sideline.
The Aces tried to tie it, but the two-point conversion failed and Edenton trailed 14-12 with 4:22 left in the first quarter.
Still, the play got the home crowd excited again and the good plays kept on coming for the Aces.
“We felt like it was just a matter of time,” Hoggard said. “They were in a defense we had not prepared for and we had to talk about it a little bit. Once we got settled in, I felt like we did a good job.”
Edenton finally regained the lead on Manteo’s next possession when senior Bobby Wilson picked off Sawyer at the Manteo 45 and took it to the end zone for a pick six and a 19-14 lead with a little more than a minute left in the opening quarter.
After the Redskins punted, the Aces scored again on sophomore Malachi White’s 16-yard run up the middle for a 26-14 lead with 10:38 left in the second quarter.
Junior Cameron Grimstead had the biggest play of that drive with a 55-yard, jet-sweep run.
Edenton then forced another Manteo punt as junior Fred Drew later ran 44 yards on a sweep play to the end zone for a 33-14 lead with 5:34 until halftime.
On the next drive, Stanley rushed 65 yards for a touchdown for a 40-14 advantage.
Stanley, in his third game of the season starting at quarterback, finished with eight carries for 116 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He completed both of his passes for a total of 87 yards.
The Aces kept piling it on before halftime as they capitalized on Redskins mistakes.
A high snap on an intended punt helped Stanley score from seven yards out for a one-play drive and senior Omar Thompson had a 46-yard fumble return inside the five-yard line after a Manteo receiver dropped the ball after catching it.
Junior Teddy Wilson scored on the first play after the fumble return to make it 54-14 lead as the second quarter expired.
Edenton opened the second half with the ball as Downing ran 30 yards on the first play and 12 yards two plays later for a 61-14 lead to start the running clock with 10:33 left in the third quarter.
Ending a 55-0 run from the Aces, Manteo scored the final points of the game with a 55-yard touchdown pass from Sawyer to James Gilreath to make it 61-20 with 5:30 left in the third quarter.
Edenton mostly played with backups on offense on its next drive until the end of the game.
Now, the Aces head back to the 1AA East Regional Final where they travel to No. 1 Tarboro for a third consecutive year.
“We have been two of the best teams in the east for a few years now and hopefully we can go give them a good game,” Hoggard said.