HANOVER, IND. – Coaches around the globe are akin to say sports and results of those activities can come down to inches.
In the case of Manchester University, a remarkable three-touchdown final stanza which wound down to the final play at Hanover College was determined by a matter of seconds. After the host Panthers etched out a 28-14 lead in the early stages of the fourth quarter, Coach Nate Jensen's team turned to a "never say die" mentality they've used in moving up the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference standings in recent weeks, riding the arm of sophomore quarterback Alex Downard (Indianapolis, Ind.) and the fleet feet of senior wide receiver Dakota Nelson (Fairland, Ind.) to overturn the deficit and gain a wild and woolly 35-34 victory.
Despite their sophomore signal caller firing three touchdown passes for a second straight contest and going over 200 yards for the fifth time in his collegiate career, it took a final minute score and then two big pass defenses for the Black and Gold to improve to 5-4 overall and 4-3 in the league. After Downard dove in from a yard out with less than two minutes to go, the Hanover offense, which was just as impressive with almost 500 yards, answered with a five-play, 91-yard march ending with an aerial pay dirt strike for a 34-29 lead with 45 seconds left. However, a two-point pass went awry to keep the score there.
"I didn't say too much (to the team) when we got ready for the kickoff," Jensen said. "We'd worked on a two-minute drill before, and the guys knew what had to be done."
Setting up 63 yards from the lead, Downard and Nelson did just that, as the standout receiver got into the clear and raced his way down Alumni Field for a 35-34 advantage with 27 seconds left. After a two-point run ended short, Hanover got one more attempt with the football from their own 43-yard-line after big kickoff return negated a long Spartans' kickoff. HC quarterback Chase Lightfoot, who already had five touchdowns and almost 400 yards through the air, aimed two long throws deep into visiting territory but neither found the mark, sending the Manchester University sideline into celebration.
"Our coaching staff couldn't be more proud (of what we've accomplished)," Jensen said. "This win shows the toughness of our kids and how gritty this team can be. It would have been easy to be negative, but there was not anyone that did not think we could do it.
"Winning games like this, after losing some close ones last year, is all about the hard work this staff and the players put in day in and day out," he added. "Our program's maturing with the leadership of upperclassmen and the work ethic we put in, too."
Nelson and sophomore wide receiver Austin Roberts (Indianapolis, Ind.) proved to be a thorn in the home team defense all afternoon. The senior finished with nine catches for 145 yards and the three touchdowns, while Roberts added four catches for 69 yards. Sophomore running back Donovan Henderson, Jr., (Hollywood, Fla.) added 54 yards and his 10th rushing score of the season to the offense totals. On the defensive end, senior defensive back Wayne Smith (Columbia City, Ind.) registered a unit-best eight tackles, while fellow senior defensive back Cody Shelton (South Bend, Ind.) picked off an errant home team pass attempt, and junior defensive lineman Jacob Cooper (Fairland, Ind.) and senior linebacker Mitch Oskam (St. John, Ind.) each sacked Lightfoot once.
The Spartans wind up their 2017 season Saturday, Nov. 11. Anderson University comes to Carl W. Burt Memorial Field for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff.