DERBY — The odds were not in Derby’s favor Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A playoffs. Not with six starters, including quarterback Todd Freeman, on the sideline with injuries.
The injured increased to seven when tight end DeAndre Goolsby went out with a game-ending injury late in the first quarter against visiting Manhattan.
Derby didn’t flinch. See, the Panthers have this belief that, no matter who is on the field, they will be OK.
“All our starters could get hurt, and we’d still win,” senior cornerback Jaron Hicks said. “ . . . When we need someone to step up, they know what to do.”
Derby’s backups made key plays as the Panthers defeated previously unbeaten Manhattan 39-28 to advance to the Class 6A semifinals next Friday. Derby (8-3) will play host to Heights (11-0).
“When one goes down, another has to step up, and we all know the second person is ready to take on the challenge,” Derby sophomore lineman Jordan Hill said.
Junior backup quarterback Kellen Sims was certainly ready. He had 210 rushing yards on 24 carries and was 8-for-13 passing for 161 yards. He also had one rushing touchdown and two passing touchdowns.
“He stepped up, he’s fast, he made great reads,” Derby sophomore Travis Young said. “He’s quick, he can get outside, and he has an awesome arm.”
When Goolsby left the game, sophomore Luke Palmer took his place at tight end.
Derby coach Brandon Clark chuckled when talking about Palmer, who is all of 5-foot-9, 143 pounds.
“We knew we had one of the best tight ends in the state go down, and they rallied around him,” said Clark, whose team rallied from behind three times. “It’s pretty cool.”
Palmer had a 37-yard touchdown reception to put the Panthers up 25-21 in the third, then caught a 39-yard pass that set up a 22-yard run by Tyler West for the 32-28 lead with 7:25 remaining.
West finished with 142 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Derby trailed early after Manhattan scored on a 74-yard pass from Dakota Harwood to Trey Campbell on a third-and-19 play and Deante Burton returned a Sims interception 85 yards for a touchdown and the 14-0 lead.
Derby’s defense also gave up an 80-yard pass play — from Harwood to Campbell — on third-and-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Otherwise the Panthers played nearly flawless defense. They held running back Ty Suggs to 19 yards on 13 carries. Manhattan finished with 56 rushing yards.
“The problem with this game is our offense,” Manhattan coach Joe Schartz said. “The completely shut down our run game. Our defense fought valiantly. They slowed them down at times, made a few plays. When you’re out there on the field all the time, it’s hard.”
Manhattan took the 28-25 lead on Campbell’s 80-yard touchdown reception with 8:20 to go and another big play could have deflated the Panthers. But Derby, as had been the case all game, didn’t get flustered.
Four plays and less than a minute later, West scored. The defense forced Manhattan to punt after three plays, and then West scored again, four plays later.
The Derby defense stopped Manhattan again when Young intercepted Harwood on fourth down at the Derby four with 3:08 remaining.
After heading to the locker room, the Panthers had an impromptu dance party and players kissed the trophy.
“I’ve been dreaming about this forever,” Young said. “Being with this team, winning this.”
Manhattan (10-1) 14 7 0 7— 28
Derby (8-3) 0 18 7 14 — 39
M—Campbell 74 pass from Harwood (Barrager kick)
M—Burton 85 INT return (Barragar kick)
D—West 1 run (missed kick)
D—Sims 1 run (pass failed)
D—Palmer 9 pass from Sims (missed kick)
M—Harwood 1 run (Barrager kick)
D—Palmer 37 pass from Sims (Shain kick)
M—Campbell 80 pass from Harwood (Barrager kick)
D—West 22 run (Shain kick)
D—West 20 run (Shain kick)
Rushing—Manhattan, Harwood 15-21, Suggs 13-19, Burton 3-7, Campbell 3-6, Olsen 1-3. Derby, , Sims 24-210, West 23-142.
Passing—Manhattan, Harwood 13-25-235-1. Derby, Sims 8-13-161-1.
Receiving—Manhattan, Campbell 3-161, Burton 6-45, Suggs 2-11, Francis 1-9, Dimel 1-9. Derby, Palmer 3-75, Fowler 2-74, LaBarge 1-9, West 2-3.