As Allen senior running back Celdon Manning walked along the sideline, a member of the Eagles coaching staff stopped him, turned to him and had a short message for him.
“He was telling me, ‘You’re a beast, keep doing what you’re doing,’” Manning said.
With starting quarterback Raylen Sharpe sidelined for Friday’s non-district game against Coppell due to a lingering ankle injury, Manning and junior Jordan Johnson helped to carry the load, rushing for a combined 341 yards in Allen’s 28-21 win at Eagle Stadium. Manning ran hard all night and finished with 247 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson added 94 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
Sharpe was listed as a game-time decision all week by Allen coach Terry Gambill.
“We took it day-by-day and he was not ready to go tonight,” Gambill said. “We were hoping that he would be ready but was not. So, we’ll start tomorrow and next week and take it day-by-day, and if he is healthy, he’ll play. If he’s not, he won’t.”
With Sharpe dress in shorts and his No. 3 jersey, Allen (3-0) rotated quarterbacks Hayden Showalter and Drew Cerniglia between series in the first half, with Cerniglia, a Coppell transfer, taking a majority of the reps in the second half. Cerniglia threw for 94 yards, which included a 4-yard pass to Bryson Green on a fourth down play in the fourth quarter that set up Manning’s game-winning 17-yard touchdown run. Showalter passed for 26 yards on five attempts.
But, it was another quarterback, Coppell junior Ryan Walker, who gave the Cowboys every opportunity to pull out a win against an Allen team that has never lost at Eagle Stadium.
Coppell (1-2) struck first when Tyler Reid booted a 32-yard field goal on the Cowboys’ initial possession for a 3-0 lead with 8:33 remaining in the first quarter. A 45-yard pass play between quarterback Walker and Anthony Black on the first play of the drive set up the score.
Allen took a 7-3 lead when Manning fend off a couple of Coppell defenders just past the line of scrimmage and then out-ran the Cowboy defense 78 yards for the touchdown and a 7-3 Allen lead with 1:17 left in the first quarter.
Coppell got an interception from Walker Polk three minutes into the second quarter and turned that into points five plays later as Reid made a 41-yard field goal to bring the Cowboys to within 7-6.
Allen turned to its running game on its next drive and extended its lead to 14-6 following a 20-yard burst from Jordan Johnson.
“They’re all good,” Coppell coach Mike DeWitt said. “11 (Johnson) is good. 1 (Manning) is really good. What’s hard is they’ve got multiple weapons outside. If you’ve got safeties in the box to stop the run, because they’ve got three backs back there and they’re creating more gaps, they can take shots on our corners because they’re on an island. It’s a cat-and-mouse type of deal.”
Coppell didn’t settle for another field goal with time winding down in the first half. With 10 seconds remaining in the first half, and the Cowboys facing 4th and goal from the Allen 8, Walker threw a touchdown pass on a clearing route to Cam Williams. Williams was wide open in the end zone on the ensuing 2-point conversion. That touchdown and subsequent conversion tied the score at 14 going into halftime.
Walker threw for 252 yards on 15-of-28 passing with two touchdowns. Black had 113 receiving yards on just three receptions.
“He’s a stud,” DeWitt said of Walker. “He’s a high-character guy. Just nothing rattles him. It’s hard enough to play quarterback, but then, when you’re quote on quote, the backup, he don’t let none of that bother him. He just shows up and goes to work. I’m proud of him.”
Allen re-took the lead at 21-14 on a direct snap to Manning that he took three yards into the end zone for a touchdown with 6:29 remaining in the third quarter.
“It was a new thing,” Manning said of the direct snap formation. “Raylen was out today, so I had to play quarterback.”
Coppell answered with a promising driving that moved inside the Allen 10-yard line but a false start with the Cowboys facing 4th and goal from the 5 and a subsequent pass break-up by Matthew Norman in the end zone on a pass intended to Black forced a turnover on downs.
“I knew it was coming,” Norman said. “I just played through his hands and broke up the ball.”
Allen appeared that it was going to go ahead by two touchdowns midway through the fourth quarter but Coppell’s Max LaMendola scooped up a fumble and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown and a 21-21 tie with 6:46 remaining in regulation.
“First, you’ve got to give Coppell a big, big credit, because of the way they played and how Mike DeWitt and his coaching staff and how they had their guys prepared,” Gambill said. “We made a lot of mistakes. But, I thought we played extremely well when we had to gut it up and get what we needed to do to win the game. That will make us a better football team.”
And when Allen needed another big play, it came courtesy of Manning. He burst 17 yards for the game-winning score with 2:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. He was showered with chants of “Celdon! Celdon! Celdon!” from the Allen student section following the conclusion of the game.
“Honestly, it was nice, but I couldn’t do anything without my line,” Manning said. “They open the holes for me and I appreciate what they do.”
Coppell had one last chance to tie the game but four straight pass incompletions by Walker, including pass break-ups by Caulin Price and great coverage by Zayteak McGhee on a fourth-down play forced a turnover on downs and allowed Allen to run out the clock.
“We’re who we are when we play on Friday nights,” Gambill said. “You can’t count on one person. I don’t think that’s fair. We were who we were tonight. The most important thing is we executed well enough to win the game.”